According to a study from this year, it was shown that the natural intervention of triggering stem cell-based regeneration of a system or an organ could not only protect against immune system damage but also shift stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-preservation and self-renewal.
Both a mice and a first phase human were a part of a clinical trial that involved patients receiving chemotherapy and spending longer periods of time without eating. This lowered white blood cell count. According to the research, a “regenerative switch was flipped” in mice, that changed the signalling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells that are responsible for the regeneration of the blood as well as the immune system.
This was remarkable since nobody predicted the amazing effects prolonged fasting would have in promoting the stem-cell based regeneration.
The study greatly contributes to the research about healthy aging, showing that the declination and the weakening of the immune system through age contribute to diseases and infections. By finding out how prolonged fasting cycles work (periods of consuming no food at all) for 2-4 days over the course of 6 months – kill damaged and old immune cells and generate new ones, the study also needs to find implications for tolerance of chemotherapy for those with a number of immune system deficiencies as well as autoimmunity disorders.
According to author Valter Longo, nobody could predict that prolonged fasting could have such a miraculous effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system.
The reason why this works is because when you starve, your immune system tries to preserve energy and in order to do this, it has to recycle a big number of the not-needed or damage immune cells, says Longo. However the first thing they noticed was the dropping number of white blood cells when in phase of prolonged fasting. But when they re-fed the patients, the number of white blood cells had risen high back up. So the main question was where did they come from?
The process of prolonged fasting forces the body to use up the glucose, fat and ketones stores but it also helps the body to break down a large portion of white blood cells. Longo refers to this process as “lightening a plane by throwing off excess cargo”.
In the middle of each fasting cycle, the depletion of white blood cells can induce changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of the new immune system cells. To sum it up, this fasting process reduced the PKA enzyme, which has previously been known to extend longevity in simple organisms. Not only that, but the fasting process lowered the IGF-1 levels as well, which is a hormone linked to tumour progression, aging and cancer.
According to Longo, PKA is the key gene that needs to be shut down in order for the stem cells to enter a regenerative mode. The shutting down of PKA, gives the “OK” signal to the stem cells to rebuild the whole immune system without the use of clinical applications. Basically this means that whatever issue you might be facing with your immune system, starting a fasting process is going to leave you with a new and improved immune system, by changing up and rebuilding the old “rusty” one.
Prolonged fasting has been also found to protect against toxicity and while chemotherapy saves lives – it deals great damage to the immune system as well as causing side-effects. But that is not the case with prolonged fasting. Scientists are starting to believe that prolonged fasting removes the harmful effects of chemotherapy however more clinical studies are needed to confirm this.
Right now, the possibility that these effects are applicable to different organs and systems is still being further examined. Longo’s laboratory is still conducting research and experiments with controlled dietary interventions and stem cell regenerations in both clinical and animal studies.
This study is supported by the National Institute of Aging and the National Institutes of Health and the clinical trial was supported by the V Foundation and the National Cancer Institute.