Fasting is healthy. That has been known for a long time now. Why exactly fasting is healthy hasn’t been common knowledge. This new study from Harvard sheds some light on the biological mechanism that leads to healthier cells and longevity. “Although previous work has shown how intermittent fasting can slow aging, we are only beginning to understand the underlying biology,” says William Mair, senior author on the study.
Fasting slows the aging process by altering the activity of mitochondrial networks inside our cells. Mitochondria are tiny power plants in our cells and a research from Newcastle university proved last year that these power plants play a vital role in the aging of cells. Now, the study from Harvard shows how fasting manipulates the mitochondrial networks to keep the cells young.
Mitochondrial networks are present in two states: fused and fragmented. They alternate between these two states. The Harvard study used nematode worms, which are used to study longevity and discovered that restricted diets promote meostasis in mitochondrial networks allowing for a healthy plasticity between these fused and fragmented states.
“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,” says Mair. Another discovery made by the study is that it enhances mitochondrial coordination with peroxisomes, a type of organelle that increases fatty acid oxidation. This is fundamental to the fat metabolism process. The study saw a significant increase in the lifespan of the nematode worm, proving healthy aging.
“Low-energy conditions such as dietary restriction and intermittent fasting have previously been shown to promote healthy aging. Understanding why this is the case is a crucial step toward being able to harness the benefits therapeutically,” explains Heather Weir, lead author of the study. “Our findings open up new avenues in the search for therapeutic strategies that will reduce our likelihood of developing age-related diseases as we get older.”