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Medicine Science

Fasting Triggers Stem Cell Regeneration of Damaged, Old Immune System 148

Posted by Soulskill
from the fasting-counters-slowing dept.
schwit1 sends word of research showing that cycles of prolonged fasting can both protect the immune system from harm and also induce regeneration by causing stem cells to start renewing themselves. 'In both mice and a Phase 1 human clinical trial (abstract), long periods of not eating significantly lowered white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles then "flipped a regenerative switch," changing the signaling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems, the research showed. "PKA is the key gene that needs to shut down in order for these stem cells to switch into regenerative mode. It gives the OK for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system," explained [study author Valter Longo], noting the potential of clinical applications that mimic the effects of prolonged fasting to rejuvenate the immune system. "And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting. Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system."'
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Fasting Triggers Stem Cell Regeneration of Damaged, Old Immune System

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  • by jaeztheangel (2644535) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @02:19PM (#47187107)
    I've always felt stronger after the Holy Month - that surprised me as a kid. Nice Article.
    • by borcharc (56372) * on Saturday June 07, 2014 @02:31PM (#47187143)

      This would not be caused by the effect in this study. You wold need to fast continuously for 48-72 hours or more to get the benefit they found. Eating after sundown would replenish the body's supply of glucose and prevent the energy conservation required.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Interestingly, the native american tradition of fasting before a sweat lodge (for 2/3 days) fits into this perfectly though.

      • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @07:36PM (#47188247)
        An alternative to fasting might be ketosis. During fasting, all available sugar is consumed and the body starts producing fat bodies called ketones that are burned by the mitochondria instead of sugar. It's impossible to continue a fast indefinitely because the body eventually runs out of fuel- in other words, it starves. But if the diet is sufficiently low in carbohydrates (>60 g/day) and high in fat, the body can burn fat-derived ketones indefinitely and remains in a state of ketosis, in effect a long-term fast. Nobody understands quite how it works, but it's been shown to produce dramatic improvements in people with epilepsy (major improvements in most patients, complete remission in a handful), bipolar depression, and perhaps neurodegenerative disorders as well. At any rate, it's clear that how you eat can have profound effects on your health, and that more research needs to be done into dietary therapies.
      • Probably won't stop Muslims from adding this to their list of "science in the Quran" though :/
        • Of course, all religions claim the good stuff to make themselves look good.

          doing this fasting is probably more like the way humans used to eat before we became farmers, it was more the norm to eat randomly because food was not always available.
      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @10:35PM (#47188717)
        That's not supported by any evidence I can see. The 48-72 hours was more likely chosen because it would allow the postdocs, grad students, and techs to not have to come in at midnight on a weekend to kill a mouse and drain them of their blood (and then quit and join a different lab). Not because that time frame was empirically determined to be the minimum fasting time required for the effect.

        Skimming the article and paper, it's pretty clear that they're establishing that this is a real effect, not determining the most efficient method to get it. I don't have any background knowledge about the molecular mechanism they're proposing, or much about nutrition and fasting (scientifically or personally) but I'd be surprised if fasting for shorter periods of times but for more periods wouldn't have some of the same effect, possibly even moreso.

        Anyway, the article says they tested it in a handful of chemotherapy patients to prove the point, but most of the work was done in mice. Mice, obviously, aren't perfect metaphors for humans. It wouldn't be terribly shocking to me at least that mice fasting for three days would have the same response that humans used to at least three square meals a day would in 12 hours.

        It could go the other way of course, humans with much greater masses and probably a lot more body fat might require longer fasting. I don't know.
        • by Dahamma (304068) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @10:53PM (#47188761)

          The 48-72 hours was more likely chosen because it would allow the postdocs, grad students, and techs to not have to come in at midnight on a weekend to kill a mouse and drain them of their blood (and then quit and join a different lab). Not because that time frame was empirically determined to be the minimum fasting time required for the effect.

          I guess you've never been a grad student/tech, then? In the lab I worked in (with rats and mice, actually, though it was sleep & circadian research) they had no problem sending the grad students - or even better, the undergrad interns - in at midnight to do various studies.

          Yes, I have sat after midnight in a lab lit only by dim red light (doesn't interrupt rat rhythms) for several hours basically keeping rats awake when they start to nod off. Which is also why our lab invented a cage that would automatically tip the rats into a pool of water when they fell asleep. Which I guess is a bit ironic that the pursuit of a decent night's sleep led to a device that prevented a decent night's sleep...

          • Sure, science waits for no one, and everyone besides the grant-writers work odd hours occasionally. Still, that doesn't mean that time points are chosen SPECIFICALLY to make it hard for the workers. It sounds like your work had to be done in that way prior to the cage thing. I have odd hours still. But that's only when not having those odd hours would ruin the experiment. If they had reason to think that only 12 hour time points would work, someone WOULD be coming in at midnight.
            • by Dahamma (304068)

              Sure, science waits for no one, and everyone besides the grant-writers work odd hours occasionally.

              Actually, the PI would take odd hour shifts when necessary. I guess that's part of why everyone else was willing to do it without complaint once in a while. Lead by example...

              Then again, he eventually left the lab and started a company doing sleep research that was later bought out by a big pharma. I guess keeping rats awake in the name of science wasn't as rewarding as doing it in the name of a $10B+ insomnia drug market. Not that I can complain, I left that field a long time ago for tech startups as

        • There have also been human research on these fasting techniques. I watched a BBC Horizon program a few years ago out of which the 5/2 fasting diet evolved. They interviewed an Italian scientist in USA who was doing trials on the 3/4 day fasts plus interviews with others being trialed other daily combinations of fasting.
      • I haven't noticed the post-Ramadan effect noted above, however, it does not seem like a stretch to think that 30 consecutive days of not eating from before sunrise to sundown would have a similar effect.

        Personally, I find it very difficult to come close to replacing the calories I typically consume in a day in just two meals. Additionally, the amount I can consume in those two meals typically decreases over the course of the month. It seems like a similar, but perhaps "softer"/less unpleasant means of get
    • Maybe Ramadan style fasting has benefits as well, perhaps even unrelated to spirituality but the study was about " periods of no food for two to four days at a time over the course of six months ", not sunup to sundown for a month.
      • Starvation is also linked to massive internal organ failure.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Starvation is also linked to massive internal organ failure.

          Yes, *starvation*, which is NOT *fasting*.

          I find your comment a little bit comical as your only real reference for starvation probably comes from not eating your regular lunch.

          As for GP with their comments about "ramadan and fasting", please. Not eating for 12h is hardly any real fasting. Fasting, for the purposes of this experiment, is not eating for 2-3+ days, not a few hours. For humans, it would probably require 3-4 days fast to get similar results.

          Starvation, FYI, is *chronic* lack of calories. Like ea

        • by Optali (809880)
          I have yet to find a specimen of the species Homo sapiens who can starve after only 48 hours of not eating.

          If you are such, please send me a mail, we will become famous. if you don't mind that I arrange that certain doctors do a few experiments with you, of course.

      • by Optali (809880)
        There are indeed some benefits. Many sporters, particularly ulrta-runners train in a way similar to Ramadan, this is called interval fasting. The aim is to train your body to have a better response to insulin spikes which may be particularly annoying (though not serious at all actually) during a run. These fasting days are 24hours from dinner to dinner the next day. I use to do it a few days per week at the begin of a training season for a marathon or longer (for a 13-miler it doesn't make much sense). If
    • by Optali (809880)
      Me too! After a month of heavy lifting I feel like Arnold Friggin' Schwartzenegger!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Stop eating and you'll live forever.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Stop eating and you'll live forever.

      ...Except it's the starting to eat again that causes regeneration.

      So if you want to live forever, you're going to have to find some way to starve for just as long as possible, then eat just enough to support the regeneration.

      I know, this ruins the joke. But the joke wasn't really that good in the first place.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's known that when brain cells (neurons) are starved of nutrients, they start eating each other. Perhaps that is happening across the body. Starve cells of nutrients and they go into "cannibal mode" and start killing and eating the weakest ones. Then when normal supply of nutrients is restored, they go back into "regeneration mode".

        • by Optali (809880)
          Sorry? Are we talking about mammal biology here? AFAIK mammal neurons are not equipped with any organ that enables them to "eat" anything. Unless you are talking about yeasts, myxobacteria or sponges.

          Oh wait...

          Are you Bob by chance?

    • by sir-gold (949031) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @05:45PM (#47187869)

      Build a man a fire, he's warm for a day.
      Set a man on fire, and he's warm for the rest of his life.

    • "Stop eating and you'll live forever."

      The good news is it doesn't affect your appetite.

  • For unscrupulous nursing homes.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Plenty of foods cause immune reactions, especially after a food chemist screws it up even more than it would be normally. People will continue to eat garbage, and plenty of it, till it kills them. Getting people to fast is like asking a heroin addict to switch over to cannabis.

    • by sir-gold (949031)

      This might be a possible solution to food allergies as well, since allergies are immune related.
      I don't know where exactly allergies are "stored" in the body, but it's possible that a regenerated immune system might make the problem less severe, or even solve the problem entirely.

      • by Adriax (746043) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @07:03PM (#47188115)

        Dear dog I hope not. If this makes the immune system forget allergies then it also forgets all the thousands of strains of bacteria and virus you have been exposed to. All your immunizations, chicken pox, colds, flu, mono, ect...
        A newborn would have a better immune system than a clean slate.

        Plus you would have a much greater chance of becoming allergic to new stuff.
        Would suck to get rid of a minor hayfever just to become allergic to all nuts.

  • Does anyone have any idea whether the same effect has been observed for long-term calorie deficit, or low-calorie diets?

    • Probably not. That's just starving. I have seem some research to indicate that too much food lowers lifespan, mainly due to the health effects of being overweight.
      • But what would be intrinsically different between fasting for a few days so the body says "hey I gotta metabolize some stuff so let's burn up the deadwood" and going low-cal for a longer period of time where the body essentially has to do the same thing?

        As long as you follow this with a period of maintenance or balanced intake so the body can then rebuild said immune system stuff, why would fasting be so different from caloric deficit?

    • by u38cg (607297)
      There is evidence that extremely low calorie diets have a significant (years) impact on lifespan, however you're talking about calorie intakes that would leave you barely functional and without energy. So nothing that you can use. But it does open up research pathways to investigate why those effects occur, which might produce something you can follow.
    • by will_die (586523)
      Probably, it has been long observed in various life prolonging studies that a near starvation died is the way to prolong your life.
  • Bodybuilding (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zakeria (1031430) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @05:22PM (#47187771) Homepage
    As a natural body builder I fast for 3 days every two weeks, the results are more muscle mass less body fat stronger faster trigger muscle...
    • Would you be so kind as to comment a bit on your methodology?

      There seems to be no small confusion over terms such as "intermittent fasting". I've seen lots of folk use this to mean essentially 16 hours from after an early dinner to a late breakfast. But some of the earlier studies used this term to mean fasting 1 day out of 4 or something like that. A quasi-periodic approach yet indeed fasting for 24 hours (or more) at a time.

      I'm curious how you manage your macro-nutrients overall? Do you eat fairly reg

      • by zakeria (1031430)
        First I've been body building for approximately 12 years for the first 8 I never used the fasting method and followed the usual high protein diet you see plastered all over the internet.. I can tell you when I stated the fasting I realised the high protein diet was completely unnecessary and I now spend my hard earned cash on better things, you do not need the protein the industry tries to make you believe in fact if you just eat regular healthy meals you will be more than fine even if your huge!. I fast fo
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 07, 2014 @07:21PM (#47188177)

    If rebooting the immune system like this clears out allergic sensitivities it would be far more important than it's impact on people with more seriously damaged systems as allergies are far more common. Perhaps this explains why in first world nations where food is so abundant there is a coincidental rise in allergies?

    No harm in individuals testing this hypothesis, but a properly designed study would be needed to confirm it in a scientifically valid way.

  • There's not enough info here to draw any firm conclusions. And I must say my BS detector went haywire hearing that the signal is given to "rebuild the ENTIRE system" (my emphasis). The appalling analogy about lightening the load of a cargo plane left me wondering also. Finally, this sort of science journalism fits too nicely into the destructive and silly meme of 'cleansing' your immune system. So I'm not swallowing it just yet.

  • Does fasting omit the consumption of water?
    • i would not think so, that's a death wish if you don't drink water.
  • My guess is the placebo effect at work. If fasting is 'healthy', then people in poor countries with inadequate food, will outlive people in rich countries. That obviously isn't happening.
    • Fasting is different of malnutrition. Fasting is just pause your healthy diet for some time. Malnutrition is not having an adequate diet for long periods or for life. The latter is not healthy for obvious reasons. The former can be healthy since your body has reserves of nutrients and fasting just make the body to use them. You'll not suffer any harm for fasting, if done correctly.

    • you'll need to check the difference between starving and fasting. its vastly different because starving people have food, it is not packed with the nutrients etc
    • by u38cg (607297)
      You are assuming your ceteri are paribus. Such people are at risk from a whole host of other issues as well, but it's true to say they do not suffer from many of the so-called lifestyle diseases that we do. Remove the crocodiles, malaria, violence, and occasional famines and they would do quite well.
  • I was put on a heart lung machine in an induced coma for three days when suffering congestive cardiac failure.
    Came out feeling great, as well as seeing flying elephants up around the ceiling when I was coming to.

  • I have remarkable personal experience that, in my opinion supports the conclusion in this article. Very briefly, beginning at age 6, I became sickly and had asthma for the next 40 years, requiring two medications almost continually. In an attempt to lose a middle-age related weight gain, I began fasting, eating absolutely nothing but drinking plenty of water. To my unanticipated delight, I noticed that after 5 days, my asthma symptoms had disappeared. Suspecting a food allergy cause, I continued fasting f
  • To anyone who thinks this research has triggered their "bullshit detector" I say "you are so full of bullshit your detector is broken".

    Watch this BBC/Horizon documentary http://vimeo.com/54089463 [vimeo.com]

    In this video they take before/after blood samples and show at least SOME actual physiological changes, change of things in ways which we currently consider to be "good for your health".

    There really (no, really really) DOES appear to be at least some valid science behind this.
  • For most of human evolution, I would think that periods of scarce food supply were pretty frequent. I wonder if part of the human body is optimized for this - when there isn't enough food (cold winter), your body consumes itself, starting with the old and weak parts (think of wolves culling the elderly and diseased members from elk herds during the winter) and then when you have a surplus again (spring and summer) it switches on and builds healthy new ones.

    With increasing research coming out about how im

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