New study proves that fasting increases stem cell regeneration

Scientists study the metabolic effects of fasting in mice, finding an increase in cell regeneration.

A new study examining the effects of fasting in mice reveals that just 24 hours of caloric restriction can boost the regeneration of cells in the gut, reports Peter Dockrill for Science Alert. “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,” explains MIT biologist Omer Yilmaz.

The study showed that fasting turns on a “metabolic switch” in the intestinal stem cells that increases fat burning. Intestinal stem cells typically renew intestinal lining in about five days, but once the metabolic switch is turned on, the process occurs much faster. Yilmaz’s team harvested intestinal stem cells from mice that had fasted for 24 hours, growing them in a culture to amass cells called organoids.

The team found that these cells had double the capacity to regenerate in comparison to mice that hadn’t fasted. “This was something that we saw in both the young mice and the aged mice, and we really wanted to understand the molecular mechanisms driving this,” says Maria Mihaylova, a biomedical researcher who participated in the study. The team discovered that fasting had activated transcription factors called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor, which turn on genes involved in metabolizing fatty acids.

That activation induced the cells to break down fatty acids while increasing the cell’s ability to regenerate themselves. The researchers then treated the mice with a molecule that reproduced some of the beneficial effects of fasting, possibly opening avenues to replicating this effect in a pill, or other drug treatment.

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