A 2014 study published by Cell Stem Cell discovered that fasting can boost your immune system by protecting it from damaged, as well as activating stem cells to renew themselves.
Phase 1 of the study included both mice and human clinical trial subjects, who were receiving chemotherapy. This phase found that long periods of not eating significantly lowered their white blood cell counts. Furthermore, in the mice, the fasting period triggered the body to begin a process of regeneration, signaling hematopoietic stem cells. These stem cells are responsible for the generation of both the immune system and circulatory system.
Valter Longo, Edna M. Jones Professor of Gerontology, Biological Sciences at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute stated, “We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system.”
This research concluded that the body has the ability to build a tolerance for chemotherapy treatments, as well as for those who suffer from autoimmune disorders. This can also be applied to a large portion of the aging population whose immune systems are beginning to decline, leaving them susceptible to disease.
The study found that the required cycle to see the recorded health benefits was periods of no food for two to four days at a time over the course of six months.
“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged,” Longo said. “What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. So we started thinking, well, where does it come from?”
How Does It Work?
When asked to explain how the process works, Longo compared the effect of prolonged fasting to lightening a plane of excess cargo. It would force the body to use the stores of ketones, fat and glucose, all while breaking down a significant portion of white blood cells. The elimination of these white blood cells then triggers regeneration of brand new immune cells.
Fasting was also found to reduce the levels of both PKA and IGF-1 in the body. IGF-1 is a hormone that has been linked to tumor growth, aging and the risk of cancer.
“PKA is the key gene that needs to shut down in order for these stem cells to switch into a regenerative mode. It gives the OK for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system,” Longo explained, “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 aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.”
The study was supported by the National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health (grant numbers AG20642, AG025135, P01AG34906). The clinical trial was supported by the V Foundation and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (P30CA014089).
Co-author Tanya Dorff, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital stated, “While chemotherapy saves lives, it causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest that fasting may mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy. More clinical studies are needed, and any such dietary intervention should be undertaken only under the guidance of a physician.”
Benefits of Fasting:
- Protect You Against Brain Disease
- Improves Insulin Sensitivity
- Promotes Longevity
- Helps to Clear the Skin and Prevent Acne
- Cuts Your Risk of Heart Disease
- Speeds Up Your Metabolism
- Improves Your Immune System
- Works to Treat Cancer in Human Cells
- Improves Hunger
- Improves Your Eating Patterns