UCL’s Grand Challenges team have produced a short film detailing the work done by Dr Robert Biel, author of the popular open access book Sustainable Food Systems: The Role of the City, and Senior Lecturer Development Planning Unit in the UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. Watch the film below, and download Dr Biel’s book for free here.
Intermittent fasting is currently all the rage. But don’t be fooled: it’s much more than just the latest fad. Recent studies of this kind of fasting – with restricted eating part of the time, but not all of the time – have produced a number of successes, but the latest involving diabetes might be the most impressive yet.
The idea of intermittent fasting arose after scientists were wowed by the effects of constant calorie restriction. A number of studies in many different animals have shown that restricted eating throughout adulthood leads to dramatic improvements in lifespan and general health.
The reasons for these improvements aren’t yet clear. Part of it seems to be that going without food gives cells in the body a much needed break to perform maintenance and repair. But the lack of food also forces cells to resort to alternative sources of energy. Some of these, such as ketones – molecules created in the liver from recycled fat – appear to be beneficial.
‘Fasting’ without fasting
The problem is that constant calorie restriction isn’t practical: it’s easy for scientists to impose upon lab animals, but hard for humans to impose upon themselves in the real world. Fortunately, we’ve learned that constant calorie restriction isn’t really necessary. Intermittent fasting seems to have many of the same benefits.
There are two main types of intermittent fasting. One type, known as “time restricted feeding”, requires eating only during a few hours of the day – say between 10am and 6pm. This approach gives the body a long break from food each night, and also reinforces beneficial circadian rhythms.
The other type of intermittent fasting – made popular by the 5:2 diet – is known as “periodic fasting”. This approach involves alternating between long periods of unrestricted eating and short periods of eating very little (five days of eating normally, two days of eating restricted calories).
It isn’t yet clear whether one type of intermittent fasting is better than the other. But the data so far suggest that both types can work.
Tackling diabetes in mice and men
The recent studies of the effects of intermittent fasting on diabetes have focused on periodic fasting in particular. As a first step, researchers led by Valter Longo at the University of Southern California, began by testing whether periodic fasting could cure diabetes in mice. They used mutant mice that lack the fat hormone leptin to regulate their food intake. These mice constantly overeat and become obese and diabetic in early adulthood.
The researchers found that after just a few months of periodic fasting – alternating seven unrestricted eating days with four restricted days – the diabetes was cured. This is an amazing result. But what’s even more amazing is the reason behind it.
The mice lost weight during the periodic fasting, which helped of course. But that wasn’t the whole story. Periodic fasting actually solved the problem directly at one of its sources: the pancreas.
Diabetes is a disease characterised by excess blood “sugar”, which really means excess blood glucose. It’s largely an insulin problem. Normally, insulin causes cells in the body to take in glucose from the blood. But with diabetes, glucose stays in the blood because cells no longer take it in. This is partly because many cells lose their sensitivity to insulin, but also because the pancreas stops making it.
It turns out that the periodic fasting made the pancreas start producing insulin again. The days of restricted eating gave the pancreas a break that allowed it to remove and recycle many of its cells. Then, when the mice started eating again, new cells that were capable of producing insulin emerged.
So the pancreas actually shrunk during the four restricted eating days, and regrew during the seven unrestricted eating days. After several such cycles of shrinking, recycling, and regrowing, the pancreas was nearly as good as new.
The big question, of course, it whether intermittent fasting will have the same effects in humans. The answer is not yet clear, but the initial indications from a recently published phase two clinical trial, again led by Longo, are promising.
In this study, 100 people went through a series of 30-day cycles of periodic fasting, each with 25 days of unrestricted eating and five days of restricted eating. After only three cycles, those subjects who started the trial with high blood sugar saw big improvements. And, importantly, none of the subjects in the trial experienced any harmful effects.
So the evidence in support of intermittent fasting keeps growing. Does that mean that we should all be doing it? Not necessarily.
Intermittent fasting seems to be most beneficial for those who are already overweight and unhealthy. While it does also seem to have some benefits for lean and healthy lab animals, it’s not yet clear whether the same is true for humans.
A much larger phase three trial of intermittent fasting in humans that will clarify a lot of things is set to begin soon. The results will no doubt be very exciting.
In June, I took part in the first meeting of all the members of a European consortium developing pan-European infrastructure and services for open access in the social sciences and humanities, led by the French organisation Open Edition. Partners from 22 organisations in 10 countries (Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and the UK) gathered to discuss the progress of the project to date and next steps in development. UCL Press joined in March 2017 as one of eight core members of the consortium.
OPERAS already has two projects underway that have received significant funding from Horizon 2020. The first of these is OPERAS-D, a design study to address the long-term requirements for governance models, structures and scientific and technical concepts for future services that the infrastructure will provide. The second is HIRMEOS (High Integration of Research Monographs in the European Open Science Infrastructure), which focuses on the monograph as a significant mode of scholarly communication, and tackles the main obstacles preventing the full integration of publishing platforms supporting open access monographs. It will do this by improving five existing open access books platforms, enhancing their technical capacities and services, ensuring their interoperability and embedding them fully into the European Open Science Cloud.
OPERAS’ final goal is to clarify the landscape of Open Access book for libraries and funders through a certification service (DOAB – Directory of Open Access Books); to improve the accessibility and dissemination of research outputs in SSH through a single discovery service; and to increase the impact of multidisciplinary research on societal challenges through a single ‘research for society’ service. It will also provide communication and advocacy, training, R&D, development of business models, standardization of technologies, and adoption of best practices for open access.
OPERAS is now planning its next stages of development – its governance, business model, legal status, and operational development over the coming years, and UCL Press is looking forward to being more involved in the next stages. At the meeting its new work packages were launched, and UCL Press will be involved in the Business Models and Communications work packages. This highly ambitious project aims to address many of the challenges that currently hamper open access from becoming the standard practice for scholarly communication. By pooling resources and expertise from across Europe, OPERAS is developing a significant step forward on the path towards open access for all.
The OPERAS consortium is launching a survey on the usage of open scholarly communication in Europe, in particular in the field of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). The purpose of the survey is to identify current practices and services that should be developed or invented. It will serve as a basis for defining the future infrastructure of OPERAS.
The survey is aimed at 5 different audiences, all of whom are impacted by open access: publishers, researchers, libraries, funders and the general public. It will primarily collect information and suggestions about common standards, good practices, new features and new integrated services.
Your participation would be welcomed- the links below are open until the 31 May 2017.