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STUDY: Fasting for 24 Hours Found to Regenerate Intestinal Stem Cells

Scientists have found yet another benefit to fasting: After just 24 hours, abstaining from food can regenerate intestinal stem cells.
fasting, benefits of fasting, intestinal stem cells

Already looking forward to those summer BBQs and picnics? Not so fast. While fruit and salad might sound like a healthier alternative to hot dogs and hamburgers, it turns out the best thing for your health this summer might be an empty plate.

That’s right — for better or for worse, more scientific evidence has emerged that fasting is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.

Earlier this year, researchers at the National Institute of Aging found that fasting can improve cognitive function and promote the growth of new nerve cells and synapses by increasing a certain chemical in the brain, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, by a full 50 percent.

Now, in a May study published in Cell Stem Cell, scientists have discovered that fasting for just 24 hours can actually regenerate intestinal stem cells.

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“Intestinal stem cells are the workhorses of the intestine that give rise to more stem cells and to all of the various differentiated cell types of the intestine,” said Omer Yilmaz, senior study author and a professor at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, in a statement. “Notably, during aging, intestinal stem function declines, which impairs the ability of the intestine to repair itself after damage. In this line of investigation, we focused on understanding how a 24-hour fast enhances the function of young and old intestinal stem cells.”

Under normal circumstances, intestinal stem cells — which divide and develop into specialized cells within the intestine’s lining — renew themselves every five days. However, fasting was found to flip a sort of metabolic switch that can not only speed up the process, but enhance overall function and allow the cells to use fat instead of carbohydrates for fuel.

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  • Kat Merck is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. An amateur naturalist who studied forestry and natural resources at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, she writes on a wide range of topics for local and national publications.

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