The immune system also helps a healthy body

Journal Reference:

  1. Anne Loft, Søren Fisker Schmidt, Giorgio Caratti, Ulrich Stifel, Jesper Havelund, Revathi Sekar, Yun Kwon, Alba Sulaj, Kan Kau Chow, Ana Jimena Alfaro, Thomas Schwarzmayr, Nikolaj Rittig, Mads Svart, Foivos-Filippos Tsokanos, Adriano Maida, Andreas Blutke, Annette Feuchtinger, Niels Møller, Matthias Blüher, Peter Nawroth, Julia Szendrödi, Nils J. Færgeman, Anja Zeigerer, Jan Tuckermann, Stephan Herzig. A macrophage-hepatocyte glucocorticoid receptor axis coordinates fasting ketogenesis. Cell Metabolism, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2022.01.004

– Until recently, it was believed that the immune system was mostly dormant unless the body was under attack in connection with infections. However, it now turns out that the immune system most likely also plays an important role for perfectly healthy people and can affect the body’s production of vital energy sources, says one of the lead authors of the study, Anne Loft, who is a postdoc at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Specifically, the immune system causes the liver of the healthy body to produce an energy source called ketone bodies. This takes place by letting the liver burn fat during fasting.

Energy for the brain

“When we’re fasting — that is, we haven’t eaten anything for maybe half a day or a full day — we start drawing on our fat deposits, but not all of our body cells are capable of burning fat. This applies, among other things, to the brain, which instead depends on the production of ketone bodies, which the liver forms by metabolising fats. The ketone bodies thereby energise the body, allowing us to function even if we don’t eat anything, explains another lead author of the study,” Søren Fisker Schmidt, Assistant Professor at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Ketone bodies are also the focal point of many popular weight loss diets focusing on cutting carbohydrates from our food, so the body begins burning fat instead. Other research also suggests that the ketone bodies may have a positive impact on, among other things, risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease.

“We now believe that the immune system affects the production of ketone bodies in fit and healthy individuals and given the beneficial effects of ketone bodies in various common metabolic disorders, this knowledge can hopefully also be applied to understand how the immune system is trying to keep the body in equilibrium when we’re sick,” Anne Loft explains.

The majority of the study was performed at Helmholtz Diabetes Center in Munich, where Anne Loft and Søren Fisker Schmidt spent 4 years supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, in close collaboration with researchers at Ulm University.

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The immune system also helps a healthy body