How fasting diets could harm future generations

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Fasting diets could affect the health of future generations, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Fasting diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, but little is known about the long-term effects of these diets, especially for future generations.

New research, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that reduced food intake in roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans) is detrimental to three generations of offspring – especially if those offspring have access to unlimited food.

Lead researcher Dr. Edward Ivimey-Cook of the UEA’s School of Biological Sciences said, “We know that decreased food intake can extend the lifespan of many animals and potentially improve human health. However, little is known about the long-term effects of reduced food intake, including time limited fasting, in distant offspring.

“We wanted to learn more about the potential long-term effects of fasting diets.”

The team studied the effects of temporary fasting on the lifespan and reproduction of roundworms and across three generations of their offspring.

They examined more than 2,500 worms spread over four generations. The first generation of worms were placed in one of four environments, including the ability to eat as much as they wanted and a fasting diet.

Four generations of offspring from these parents were then placed on either complete or fasted diets.

The team then assessed the effects of different scenarios on the reproduction and longevity of future generations. These included what happens when great-grandparents fast but future generations can eat as much as they want and cumulative fasting for four generations.

Dr. Ivimey-Cook said: “We looked at what happens to roundworms. Unlike us, they are transparent, about 1 mm long, and live in the ground.

“They have no bones, no heart or circulatory system. But they are a classic model organism for studying the aging process in biology because they share many genes and molecular pathways that control development with humans.

“They are also very useful because they have a short life cycle of just two weeks so we can study their development and that of generations of their offspring in a short time. A similar study across humans could take a century or more!

“We have found that fasting actually increases lifespan and also improves reproductive performance of the offspring when the offspring are fasting themselves.

“We were surprised, however, that fasting reduced offspring performance when the offspring had access to unlimited food.

“And this detrimental effect was evident in the big and big offspring.

“This shows that fasting can be costly for offspring and that this effect can last for generations.

“There is great interest in the potential benefits of fasting in promoting healthy aging in humans.

“Many of the molecular pathways involved in the fasting response are evolutionarily conserved, which means that the same pathways exist for a variety of species including humans.

“Our study therefore urges us to consider the multi-generational effects of fasting in various organisms, including humans.

“This is really important because it means that we must carefully weigh the long-term effects of fasting when trying to pursue a healthy lifestyle – because the harmful effects can only manifest themselves in distant generations.”

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Life Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the European Research Council (ERC).

“Transgenerational Fitness Effects of Longevity Extension by Dietary Restriction in Caenorhabditis elegans” will be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Study results show that the offspring of older mothers respond more strongly to aging measures

More information:
Edward R. Ivimey-Cook et al. Transgenerational Fitness Effects of Longevity Extension by Dietary Restriction in Caenorhabditis elegans, Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2020). DOI: 10.1101 / 2020.06.24.168922 Provided by the University of East Anglia

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