The entire immune system can be regenerated by fasting for as little as three days, even in the elderly, scientists have found in a breakthrough described as “remarkable”.
Even though fasting diets have been criticized by nutritionists for being unhealthy, several new studies have found that starving the body kick-starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells, which fight off infection.“This discovery could be particularly beneficial for people suffering from damaged immune systems, such as cancer patients on chemotherapy” – according to scientists at the University of Southern California.
It could also help the elderly, whose immune system becomes less effective as they age, and as a result it’s harder for them to fight off even common diseases.
Fasting “flips a regenerative switch”, according to researchers. It prompts the stem cells to create brand new white blood cells, and essentially regenerates the entire immune system.
“It gives the ‘OK’ for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system,” said Prof Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of California.
“And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting.
“Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or ageing, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.”
Prolonged fasting forces the body to break down a significant portion of white blood cells and use stores of glucose and fat.
The depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells, during each cycle of fasting.
In the trials people were asked to fast regularly for between two and four days over a six-month period. The results showed that prolonged fasting also reduced the enzyme PKA. An enzyme linked to ageing and a hormone which increases cancer risk and tumor growth.
“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system.” Dr. Longo said.