New research into fasting is making a case that age-related decline in stem cell regeneration can be reversed by a 24-hour fast. When intestinal stem cells work well, the body can recover from gastrointestinal infections or other conditions that affect digestive function.
How Fasting Impacts Intestinal Stem Cells
A group of biologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that fasting for a 24-hour period has a beneficial effect on intestinal stem cells. These cells maintain the lining of the intestine, renewing all its cells every five days.
Yet, as a person ages, the stem cells often start to lose their ability to regenerate. Consequently, they are no longer able to effective repair damage caused by injury or infection in the digestive tract.
Based on their discovery, MIT researchers believe that age-related loss of stem cell function can now be reversed. They found that a 24-hour fast significantly improves intestinal stem cells’ ability to regenerate.
Benefits to Digestive Function and Overall Health
The research shows that fasting could potentially help older people whose stem cells no longer function properly. The researchers claim that stopping food intake for 24 hours may help with recovery from gastrointestinal infections and other ailments.
Omer Yilmaz, an MIT assistant professor of biology, a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and senior author of the study, stated:
Fasting has many effects in the intestine, which include boosting regeneration as well as potential uses in any type of ailment that impinges on the intestine, such as infections or cancers.
Another author of this study, David Sabatini, an MIT professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Koch Institute, stated:
This study provided evidence that fasting induces a metabolic switch in the intestinal stem cells, from utilizing carbohydrates to burning fat.
Interestingly, switching these cells to fatty acid oxidation enhanced their function significantly. Pharmacological targeting of this pathway may provide a therapeutic opportunity to improve tissue homeostasis in age-associated pathologies.
Metabolic Effects of Fasting
During their initial testing, study researchers observed the same improvement in both young and aged mice. In both sets of fasting mice, intestinal cells switched to using fatty acids for energy instead of burning glucose. This metabolic change stimulated the stem cells to become more regenerative.
A popular diet that’s based on the principle that the body can benefit from burning fat instead of glucose is the ketogenic diet. Scientists have claimed that the ketogenic diet could be an alternative, non-toxic approach to cancer management.
In the future, the MIT scientists plan to further study exactly how this metabolic switch provokes stem cells to enhance their regenerative abilities. They have already discovered that they can affect the relevant metabolic pathways using a pharmacological intervention, thus producing the beneficial effects of fasting.
A healthy diet doesn’t mean you need to always deny yourself pleasurable foods. As well, starving yourself isn’t exactly the smart way to go about losing a few extra pounds. But this doesn’t mean that periodic fasting isn’t beneficial. In fact, quite the opposite may be true.
This newest research is yet another scientific study that claims fasting may have significant health benefits. A different research team out of the National Institute on Aging showed that fasting benefits the brain and boosts brain power. In that study, neurologists discovered that fasting could slow down abnormal degeneration of neurons, common in diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.