If you’re hungering for a way to lose weight and maybe even slow down or reverse aging, a Japanese study suggests that fasting may be the way to go.
“We have been researching aging and metabolism for many years and decided to search for unknown health effects in human fasting,” said Dr. Takayuki Teruya, of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). “Contrary to the original expectation, it turned out that fasting induced metabolic activation rather actively.”
In their study published in Scientific Reports, Teruya and colleagues found that, besides losing weight, going without food may boost human metabolic activity, generate antioxidants, and help reverse some effects of aging. They identified 30 previously unreported substances whose quantity increases during fasting and that indicate a variety of health benefits.
In their study, the researchers monitored the blood levels of metabolites among fasting subjects. A metabolite is a substance formed when living organisms generate energy and grow. The study found 44 metabolites, including 30 that were previously unrecognized, that increased universally among subjects between 1.5- to 60-fold within just 58 hours of fasting.
In previous research, the OIST team identified various metabolites that decline with age, including three known as leucine, isoleucine, and ophthalmic acid. In fasting individuals, these metabolites increase, suggesting a mechanism by which fasting could help increase longevity.
“These are very important metabolites for maintenance of muscle and antioxidant activity, respectively,” said Teruya in a news release. “This result suggests the possibility of a rejuvenating effect by fasting, which was not known until now.”
Newfound benefits of fasting?
In the report of their study, the researchers suggest that their work may provide an answer to the question of why fasting seems to prolong life in animals, possibly by boosting production of several age-related metabolites, abundant in young people, but depleted in old.
“Recent aging studies have shown that caloric restriction and fasting have a prolonging effect on lifespan in model animals…but the detailed mechanism has remained a mystery,” said Teruya. “It might be possible to verify the anti-aging effect from various viewpoints by developing exercise programs or drugs capable of causing the metabolic reaction similar to fasting.”
The findings expand on established ideas of what fasting could do for human health. The next step would be to replicate these results in a larger study, or investigate how the metabolic changes might be triggered by other means.
“People are interested in whether human beings can enjoy the effects of prevention of metabolic diseases and prolonging life span by fasting or caloric restriction, as with model animals,” said Teruya. “Understanding the metabolic changes caused by fasting is expected to give us wisdom for maintaining health.”