Remember the search for the “fountain of youth?” The relentless quest from humankind to find a magic potion that would keep us young and healthy forever. The alchemist did their parts, and so did sorcerers and the first medics. Such legendary dreams have morphed into a modern desire to extend our lifespan and make our lives more enjoyable. What would be the purpose of reaching certain age if we cannot enjoy ourselves?
One thing has been preserved since ancient times; the practice of restricting calorie intake and fasting has been one of the most compelling, convincing, and proven methods to prolong life and avoid ailments.
Fasting, in particular, is associated with a reduced risk of autoimmune disorders, tumor development, neurodegenerations, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. Recent research shows that dietary restrictions are enhancers of adult stem cell function. Unfortunately, the exact mechanisms in which fasting alters stem cells are mostly unknown. However, studies in species prove that stem cells can cope with long periods with no food, and this mechanism benefits the organism.
Telomeres, aging, and fasting – what we know
Telomeres are what protect chromosomes from DNA decline and degradation. The known way to keep telomeres functioning requires a specific minimum length. Telomere length is a cellular marker of aging; telomerase activity cannot prevent the natural cause of aging by itself.
Data from research links and enrichment of stem cells and periods of fasting. One way to understand this process is by learning that cells halt mitosis (which causes shortening in telomeres) during fasting.
The medical and scientific community has increased their interest in how dietary regimens can slow the natural aging process.
Telomeres, aging, and fasting – what is fasting?
There’s a difference between reduction of calorie intake and malnutrition. Calory restriction corresponds approximately to the decrease of 30% of calories per day. In humans, it takes only half of that decrease to show favorable effects against aging and mortality.
The practice of fasting reduces some growth factors in our body, such as the insulin-growth factor and the growth hormone—both associated with increased mortality and accelerated aging.
An interesting study was conducted over the long-lived population in Okinawa, Japan. This population has a below-average food intake -compared to the rest of the country. Their extended lifespan has been an object of many studies. Interestingly, some Okinawan families moved to Brazil, adopting a Western lifestyle that included a higher calorie consumption and a reduction in their physical activities. This resulted in many health problems, including weight gain and an outstanding drop in life expectancy of 17 years.
Calorie restriction during fasting periods changes many processes in the human body, such as a change in the oxidative processes, mitochondrial function, and others linked to telomere length and telomerase activity.
Research shows, however, that the benefits of intermittent fasting are still great even if the individual has an over-the-average calorie consumption. This represents good news because many people would find it challenging to cut back in calories by 30%. Intermittent fasting offers a feasible solution, bringing life-extending benefits without the need for impossible dietary reduction.
There are many ways to practice intermittent fasting. The three most popular are:
- Eat-stop-eat: Fasting for 24 hours once a week.
- The 16/8 approach. Eating during an 8-hour window allows the body to “rest” for 16 hours.
- 5:2 approach. Consuming 500 calories per day twice a week (not back-to-back days)
Telomeres, aging, and fasting – Conclusion
As the body spends some time without receiving food, the organism enters a fasting state. The following processes being during intermittent fasting -related to aging:
- The body triggers autophagia, a process where cells remove waste, damaged cells, toxins, and viruses.
- Genes change, promoting longevity.
- The inflammation processes stop.
- The oxidative processes that release free radicals and provoke cell damage also stop.