In a new study that was published on May 3, 2018, US biologists discovered that 24-hour fasting can dramatically improve stem cells' ability to regenerate, in both aged and young mice.
The study revealed that fasting can reverse the age-related loss of intestinal stem cell function that can regenerate new intestinal cells.
The study was published in a journal called Cell Stem Cell.
The Study: Key Highlights
• The study was conducted on mice. After the mice fasted for 24 hours, the researchers removed intestinal stem cells and grew them in a culture dish, allowing them to determine whether the cells can give rise to mini-intestines known as organoids.
• The researchers sequenced the messenger RNA of stem cells from the mice that fasted and found that fasting induces cells to switch from their usual metabolism, they begin breaking down fatty acids instead of glucose, a change that stimulates the stem cells to become more regenerative.
• This switch occurs through the activation of transcription factors called PPARs, which turn on many genes that are involved in metabolizing fatty acids, according to the researchers.
• The researchers found that they could also reproduce the beneficial effects of fasting and boost regeneration with a molecule that activates the same metabolic switch.
• The intervention could potentially help older people recovering from gastrointestinal infections or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy without requiring the patients to fast.
• The study provides evidence that fasting induces a metabolic switch in the intestinal stem cells, from utilising carbohydrates to burning fat, enhancing their function significantly.
• The intestinal stem cells are responsible for maintaining the lining of the intestine, which typically renews itself every five days.
• The stem cells play a significant role in repairing any damage in case of an injury or infection.
• However, the regenerative abilities of these intestinal stem cells decline with age so it takes longer for the intestine to recover as age increases.
• The discovery may provide a therapeutic opportunity to improve tissue homeostasis in age-associated pathologies.
Who could benefit from the study?
The group that could benefit the most from such treatment is cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy, which often harms intestinal cells.
It could also benefit older people who experience intestinal infections or other gastrointestinal disorders that can damage the lining of the intestine.