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Snake Study Shows How Eating Ultimately Decreases Lifespan

Jan 06, 2016 06:28 PM EST
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Eating is essential to life, but a new study conducted on snakes suggests it can ultimately increase the rate at which we age. Researchers say this could help explain why fasting and low calorie diets are linked to an increased lifespan.

In the latest study, a team of researchers from the University of the Pacific discovered eating any and all types of food can cause oxidative damage, which is an increase in chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen that harms cells and DNA. Damage occurs when our immune system registers we have consumed food and accumulating such damage over time ultimately contributes to aging.

"It seemed like this is a hidden piece of the puzzle that no one had investigated that might be really important, for lots of reasons." Dr. Zach Stahlschmidt, one of the study rearchers from the University of the Pacific, said in a news release.

To test this, researchers chose to focus on the well-studied corn snake Pantherophis guttatus, since it survives on a one-mouse meal every two weeks. Blood was drawn from the snake during both peak digestion and well after consumption. By studying an animal that eats rather infrequently, scientists were able to distinguish between normal amounts of circulating reactive oxygen molecules from those present in its blood only after food was eaten.

When monitoring how the amount of oxidative damage was changing over time, researchers were surprised to find it increased by nearly 180 percent during digestion. What's worse is antioxidant capacity – the ability of one's body to fight off the damaging effects of eating – only increased by six percent, suggesting the snakes constantly accrue damage when they eat. Researchers suggest their findings can be applied to various animals, including humans.

"The levels of damage we saw were really similar to or exceeded, by quite a bit, things as stressful as flying 200 kilometers (124 miles) in a bird, or mounting an immune response," Stahlschmidt added in a statement. "Both of these things seem really stressful and may induce oxidative damage, and they do, but much less than actually eating a meal."

The findings were recently presented at the 2016 annual conference of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology.

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