We all know the morning rush – you get up, shower, drive to work or set up your desk from home.
We focus so much on getting our day off to a good start that breakfast often becomes an afterthought. And when you have something to eat, it’s usually a piece of toast or a small bite of a banana.
But skipping breakfast could be bad for your immune system, according to a new study. Missing out on the so-called most important meal of the day could lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Researchers say the study, conducted on mice, is among the first to show that skipping meals triggers a response in the brain that negatively affects immune cells.
“There is a growing awareness that fasting is healthy, and indeed there is ample evidence supporting the benefits of fasting,” said lead author Filip Swirski, director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
“Our study urges caution as it suggests that fasting can also incur costs that pose a health risk,” says Swirski.
The study shows that there is a connection between the nervous and immune systems. Researchers wanted to better understand how fasting from a few hours to a heavier 24-hour fast affects the immune system.
They analyzed two groups of mice – one group having breakfast right after waking up and the other not having breakfast. Blood samples were taken when they woke up, four hours later, and then eight hours later.
Looking at the fasting group, the scientists saw a difference in the number of white blood cells called monocytes, which are made in the bone marrow and travel throughout the body, where they play many crucial roles, from fighting infection to heart disease and cancer .
90% of these cells disappeared from the fasting mice’s bloodstream, and the number continued to decrease after eight hours. Meanwhile, monocytes in the non-fasting group were unaffected, researchers found.
In the fasted mice, the researchers found that the cells migrated back to the bone marrow for hibernation and the production of new cells in the bone marrow decreased.
By remaining in the bone marrow, the cells survived longer and aged differently than the monocytes that remained in the blood.
Researchers continued fasting mice for up to 24 hours and then reintroduced food, according to the study published in Immunity Journal.
The cells hidden in the bone marrow flooded back into the bloodstream within a few hours, leading to increased levels of inflammation.
Instead of protecting against infection, these altered monocytes were more inflammatory, making the body less resistant to infection, the scientists say.
The results showed that fasting triggers a stress response in the brain — possibly what makes people “hungry” (feeling hungry and angry).
“Because these cells are so important for other diseases such as heart disease or cancer, it is crucial to understand how their function is controlled,” says Swirski.
Excuse us while we pour a bowl of Shreddies.