Fasting May Help Boost Immune System Function for Elderly
Generally speaking, fasting is often viewed quite negatively. However, a new study done by the University of Southern California has found that fasting could help the body fight disease, showing that a two day fast may actually regenerate the immune system. The study sheds some hope for those with compromised immune systems such as those receiving chemotherapy and the elderly.
Studies were done on both mice and humans. It was found that long periods of fasting significantly lowered white blood cell counts, demonstrating that long periods of fasting could have a negative effect on one's immune, subsequently increasing a person's susceptibility to disease.
In mice, it was found that each fasting cycle "flipped a regenerative switch" that led to the regeneration of new white blood cells. Apparently a short period of fasting was found to shock the immune system, renewing the body's defense. It was analogous to the immune system being given a wake-up call, with the fasting period reviving the immune system and more or less communicating to it and saying "you are sluggish and need to get moving." Valter Longo, who is a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California said, "it gives the OK for the stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system. 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."
The study also found that fasting for a short period led to a reduction is the enzyme PKA, as well as reducing levels of IGF-1, all of which have been related to reduced longevity, accelerated aging and cancer cell development. How fasting leads to these reductions was not definitively stated.
The results appear promising, yet it is too early to start recommending periodic fasting. I think they must be interpreted very cautiously at this point. It must be remembered that overall, nutritional sustenance is typically much more important, and that deprivation of important nutritional components for extended periods of time can have deleterious effects for individuals, including a reduced immune capacity.
It must further be remembered that for many older adults, their immune systems are often compromised by inadequate dietary intake of proper nutrients. Therefore, the question I would ask the researchers that conducted this study is if fasting would have similar effects for those who fail to take in the proper levels of nutrition in their daily diets. Here again, I do not think any answer to that particular question could be ascertained from the study's very preliminary findings. However, this does not mean that we should be dismissive of the results either. If the results can be further replicated, it may have some important significance for addressing many older adults who need a jump start immunologically to ward off many diseases that they become more susceptible to as a result of aging. However, until more results are found that support this type of intervention, caution and a healthy level of skepticism should continue to guide our approach in this area.
Delhidailynews.com (2014/June 8). Fasting Twice a Year Rebuilds Immune System. http://www.delhidailynews.com/news/Fasting-regenerates-immune-system-1402181003/