A new study suggests that intermittent fasting could increase lifespan, as it can alter the activity of mitochondrial networks inside our cells.
The study, led by Harvard University, was published in Cell Metabolism. They examined nematode worms, or C. elegans, which live just two weeks and therefore allow us to study aging in real time.
Mitochondria are the energy-producing structures in cells. To protect themselves from damage, they sometimes fuse together, keeping them in a more youthful state. As they age, however, their ability to do this declines.
By restricting the diet of the worms, the researchers found that they could keep mitochondria in a fused state for longer. Similar results were achieved by the genetic manipulation of an energy-sensing protein, called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK).
They then found that these youthful networks of mitochondria could increase lifespan by communicating with cellular structures called organelles, in this case, peroxisomes, which control fat metabolism.
Previously, scientists had been unclear how mitochondria fusion affects metabolism and cellular function. This study shows that there is a link between the two, resulting in an increased longevity.
“Low-energy conditions such as dietary restriction and intermittent fasting have previously been shown to promote healthy aging,” said Heather Weir, lead author of the study, in a statement.
“Understanding why this is the case is a crucial step toward being able to harness the benefits therapeutically.”
The team hopes that these findings could help develop strategies to reduce the chance of developing age-related diseases as we get older. They now want to investigate if the same link is seen in mammals, and find out if mitochondrial flexibility could reveal a link between obesity and age-related diseases.
“Although previous work has shown how intermittent fasting can slow aging, we are only beginning to understand the underlying biology,” William Mair, senior author of the study, said in a statement.
Last year, a study found that a vitamin called nicotinamide riboside (NR) could also increase lifespan, by stimulating the regeneration of lost muscle tissue in elderly mice. In that study, the researchers also found a link between mitochondrial dysfunction and the reduced ability of cells to regenerate themselves.