Skipping breakfast can damage your immune response - study

Skipping meals through intermittent or prolonged fasting periods cause certain white blood cells to go dormant.

 Child eating breakfast (illustrative) (photo credit: PXHERE)
Child eating breakfast (illustrative)
(photo credit: PXHERE)

Those skipped meals may do more damage to your bodily functions than previously thought. Researchers have uncovered that diets that involve fasting - prolonged periods without eating or drinking - could be tied to developing cardiovascular diseases and even some cancers.

According to a recently published study, skipping breakfast can actually cause more harm than you'd think. This peer-reviewed study was authored by researchers and medical professionals in cardiovascular health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, in collaboration with a team from Harvard Medical School. Researchers said that after carrying their study out on mice, they are able to see how skipping meals triggers responses in the brain.

Their findings show that skipping meals triggers responses in the immune cells of the brain. 

Why breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day

Skipping the first meal of the day, breakfast, may be bad for the immune system because it makes it more difficult for the body to fight off infection, research uncovered.

Results of this study can lead to more in-depth comprehension of the long-term effects of chronic fasting habits. Researchers wanted to better understand how extended periods of time - whether 4 hours or 24 hours - of fasting would impact the immune system.

 Child eating breakfast (illustrative) (credit: PEXELS) Child eating breakfast (illustrative) (credit: PEXELS)

To do so, scientists watched two groups of mice. One group ate breakfast immediately after waking up while the other group had no breakfast. Researchers took blood samples from the mice on set schedules; first thing after waking up, four hours later, then eight hours later.

The group that was fasting had a significant difference in the amount of white blood cells present. These cells, called monocytes, are made in bone marrow and travel through the body to help fight infections and diseases.

The study found that 90% of these specific cells had disappeared from the bloodstreams of fasting mice. The number declined even more at the eight hour check in. However, these monocytes were not impacted in the slightest.

The cells in the fasting mice had returned to the bone marrow to “hibernate” and produce new cells. This would cause the cells to age differently than other cells of the same kind.

Researchers continued these tests for 24 hours before reintroducing food to mice.

After cells moved back into the bloodstream after being dormant, cells become inflamed, making it harder to protect against infection.

Lead author Filip Swirski, director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai said that, “There is a growing awareness that fasting is healthy, and there is indeed abundant evidence for the benefits of fasting. Our study provides a word of caution as it suggests that there may also be a cost to fasting that carries a health risk.”

“The study shows that there is a conversation between the nervous and immune systems.”

Dr Swirski added, “Because these cells are so important to other diseases like heart disease or cancer, understanding how their function is controlled is critical.”

The research team also found that specific regions of the brain had direct control over these white blood cells and their response during fasting. They also found that that fasting elicits a stress response in the brain – think, when someone is feeling “hangry” (hungry and angry).