Fasting and low calorie diets spur anti-aging molecule production

A new study has revealed the potential anti-aging effects of fasting and calorie restriction on the vascular system. The research, which comes out of Georgia State University, focused on vascular aging due to its important role in the overall process of aging. During the work, scientists discovered a molecule produced during times of low food intake that slows down the cellular aging of the vascular system.

The link between fasting, calorie restriction, and aging hasn't been studied sufficiently, but early research into potential links between the two — eating less and aging slowly — has indicated potentially favorable results. This latest study adds to that slowly growing body of evidence, finding that eating less or fasting for periods of time results in the production of β-Hydroxybutyrate, a molecule with a ketone group produced by the liver.

This molecule is produced when a person engages in long periods of intense exercise or low food consumption, diets that restrict carbohydrates, and during starvation. "This compound can delay vascular aging through endothelial cells, which line the interior surface of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels," said the study's senior author Dr. Ming-Hui Zou. "It can prevent one type of cell aging called senescence, or cellular aging."

It's possible that overeating could have the opposite effect — that β-Hydroxybutyrate may be suppressed during times of excessive food consumption, possibly resulting in increased rates of aging.

β-Hydroxybutyrate also offers a positive benefit by binding to a type of RNA-binding protein; when this happens, activity of Octamer-binding transcriptional factor (Oct4), a stem cell factor, increases to help protect against cellular aging resulting from DNA damage. This, in turn, helps keep one's blood vessels younger and better functioning.

Convincing a large number of people to regularly engage in fasting or calorie restriction is difficult, but researchers are looking into whether there's a chemical that can mimic the anti-aging effect of decreased food consumption. Zou explained:

We're trying to take the global approach to reducing cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease. It's difficult to convince people not to eat for the next 24 hours to increase the concentration of this compound (β-Hydroxybutyrate), and not everybody can do that, but if we can find something that can mimic this effect and people can still eat, it would make life more enjoyable and help fight disease.