Experts estimate that the global anti-aging market is expected to reach a whopping $331.41 billion by 2021! Every day we invest our hard-earned money and an incredible amount of time and energy into trying to slow down and reverse the signs of aging, eager to hold onto our youth. Looking to creams, pills, vitamins, and even cosmetic surgery – our society is obsessed with looking younger.
In October 2017 a team of Harvard researchers published an article in ‘Cell Metabolism’ discussing the impact of intermittent fasting on the cells of the body. Specifically, the article focused on the cellular processes relating both to aging and age-related diseases. What did they discover? The practice of intermittent fasting can actually keep your body younger at a cellular level – improving your overall health and well-being and extending your lifespan.
The researchers focused their study specifically on one part of the cell – the mitochondria. This specific part of the cell performs a very important function, taking in nutrients from the cell, breaking them down and turning the nutrients into energy that can be used by the cell in order to carry out its various functions. The more energy that a cell requires, the more mitochondria a cell will possess.
These mitochondria exist in two different states within the cell, fused and fragmented states. When they are alternating optimally between the two, the process is called homeostasis. During their study, the researchers found that the mitochondria remained in this state of homeostasis longer when the organism practiced intermittent fasting.
The team used nematode worms, an organism with a lifespan of only 2 weeks. Why was this important? The short lifespan allowed the researchers to study the aging process in real time, providing them with a more accurate idea of how fasting impacted both the aging of the cells and the organism as a whole, as well as the way in which this practice impacted a number of age-related diseases. By restricting the worms’ diet team was able to mimic the process of intermittent fasting, exploring a number of different diet patterns and schedules.
Intermittent fasting is currently one of the hot trends in our society, taking the health and fitness industry by storm. Backed by a number of studies, it has been found to have powerful and beneficial effects on the function of the brain and the human body – improving health and promoting weight loss. Practitioners follow an eating pattern that cycles between eating and periods of fasting. For this reason, the practice is less a ‘diet’ as we often see circulating through our society, and more a change in eating pattern. One popular pattern, called the ‘16/8 Method’ or the ‘Leangains Protocol’ includes skipping breakfast and eating during an 8-hour block of time in your day, for example, 1 PM to 9 PM, while fasting for the remaining 16 hours.
William Mair, associate professor of genetics and complex diseases at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study explained, “Although previous work has shown how intermittent fasting can slow aging, we are only beginning to understand the underlying biology. Our work shows how crucial the plasticity of mitochondria networks is for the benefits of fasting. If we lock mitochondria in one state, we completely block the effects of fasting or dietary restriction on longevity.”
In order to better understand the effects of fasting on the human population studies will be required on fasting in mammals, exploring how this research can be carried over to larger organisms.