Stem cells naturally regenerate every five days but as people grow older, they begin to lose their ability to regenerate.
Being the source of all new intestinal cells, a decline in stem cells can make it increasingly difficult to recover from gastrointestinal infections or other conditions that affect the intestine.
Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they have found that age-related loss of stem cells function can be reversed by a day’s fast. The reversal, they say, was found in both young and old mice.
“Fasting has many effects in the intestine, which include boosting regeneration as well as potential uses in any type of ailment that impinges on the intestine, such as infections or cancers,” says Omer Yilmaz, an MIT assistant professor of biology and one of the senior authors of the study.
“Understanding how fasting improves overall health, including the role of adult stem cells in intestinal regeneration, in repair, and in aging, is a fundamental interest of my laboratory.”
The new find could potentially help older people recovering from GI infections or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, the researchers say.
“This study provided evidence that fasting induces a metabolic switch in the intestinal stem cells, from utilizing carbohydrates to burning fat,” said David Sabatini, an MIT professor of biology and senior author of the study.
“Interestingly, switching these cells to fatty acid oxidation enhanced their function significantly. Pharmacological targeting of this pathway may provide a therapeutic opportunity to improve tissue homeostasis in age-associated pathologies.”
The result of the study was published in journal Cell Stem Cell.