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On-and-Off Fasting Could Help Increase Lifespan

Feb 27, 2015 06:27 PM EST

(Photo : malexeum / Fotolia)

In what can be considered an eating marathon of sorts, new research has indicated that on-and-off fasting could help increase your lifespan.

"People don't want to just under-eat for their whole lives," co-author Martin Wegman said in a statement. "We started thinking about the concept of intermittent fasting."

Fasting in mice has been shown to extend life and improve age-related diseases. However fasting every day, which could mean skipping entire meals or reducing overall caloric intake, can be hard to maintain. With intermittent fasting, you get the benefits without having to constantly skimp on food.

During the 10-week study, participants were fed one meal when fasting, including foods such as roast beef and gravy, mashed potatoes, Oreo cookies and orange sherbet. On the feasting days, they pigged out on bagels with cream cheese, spaghetti with chicken, soda and vanilla ice cream, for example. All the while, researchers measured the participants' changes in weight, blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels, cholesterol, markers of inflammation and genes involved in protective cell responses.

"We found that intermittent fasting caused a slight increase to SIRT 3, a well-known gene that promotes longevity and is involved in protective cell responses," explained researcher Michael Guo.

The SIRT3 gene encodes a protein also called SIRT3, which researchers believe is activated by oxidative stress - that is, when there are more free radicals produced in the body than the body can neutralize with antioxidants. However, small levels of free radicals can be beneficial and trigger protective pathways, as happens during recurrent fasting.

"The hypothesis is that if the body is intermittently exposed to low levels of oxidative stress, it can build a better response to it," Wegman said.

While these findings are promising, the researchers note that future studies should examine a larger group of participants and include studying a larger number of genes as well as examining muscle and fat tissue.

The results were published in the journal Rejuvenation Research.

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