One of the most studied, most promising avenues for improving what is known as “healthy” aging is fasting. Yes, terrible as it might seem to food lovers all around the world it seems, at least in animal models, that fasting is a good way forward.
So much so that recently in an article in Cell Stem Cell, the team lead by Maria Mihaylova and coworkers have shown in MICE that just one day of fasting can revert the damaging effects of aging on intestinal cells by improving their regeneration both in young and old animals.
The initial goal of the research team was to study the role of adult stem cells in response to diet (aka short-term fasting), and whether their activity would involve tissue regeneration. As their later experiments would prove, that seems to be the case, at least in mice.
Functionally they observed that after one day of fasting the intestinal cells underwent a metabollic change that led them to start burning fat (FAO, fatty acid oxidation) instead of carbohydrates. And it was this change that made them functionally better. Even more, pharmacological activation of this metabollic pathway achieves the same effect pointing to this pathway as a strong modullator for intestinal activity.
This metabollic change was driven at the level of gene expression via activation of transcription factors (molecules needed to allow for expression of certain genes) in the FAO pathway, and without these transcription factors regeneration was not possible. By the use of drugs that stimulate the production of such transcription factors, the FAO pathway and the intestinal stem regeneration driven by 24-hour fasting could also be replicated, giving rise to hope for a pharmacological intervention that could help patients in need to reboot their intestinal function without having to “suffer” a day of fasting.
This finding is not only interesting because of the extent of the effect of the impact of a single pathway in tissue regeneration and in reverting the aging process, but also because of its potential for direct pharmacological intervention. In any case, it is way to soon to start thinking about a miracle rejuvenating pill for our intestines, let alone for the rest of our aging bodies, but it is nonetheless another step forward in the right direction. Let’s keep moving!
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