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Fasting may help protect against immune-related effects of aging

Researchers reporting in Thursday’s issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Stem Cell have discovered that periodic fasting may fight both chemotherapy-caused and aging-related alterations in immune cell function by restoring stem cells in the blood. The results imply that fasting may offer benefits for cancer patients, the elderly and people with different immune issues.

The toxic effects of chemotherapy can lower the overall effectiveness of anticancer treatments by restricting the dosage and frequency of chemotherapeutic interventions that are bearable for patients.

Dr. Valter Longo, of the University of Southern California, and his colleagues assessed whether fasting could have protective effects for immune cells such as white blood cells.

“We show that prolonged fasting periods cause a major reduction in white blood cell number followed by its replenishment after refeeding,” said Dr. Longo in a statement. “We discovered that this effect, which may have evolved to reduce energy expenditure during periods of starvation, is able to switch stem cells to a mode able to not only regenerate immune cells and reverse the immunosuppression caused by chemotherapy, but also rejuvenate the immune system of old mice.”

The researchers also discovered that protection against white blood cell loss took place in human patients who fasted for a 72-hour period prior to chemotherapy.

“We are investigating the possibility that these effects are applicable to many different systems and organs, not just the immune system,” said Longo.