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Why fasting improves longevity and brain health

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Fasting—or restricting the calories in your diet—seems to improve your health and help you live longer, but scientists have only recently discovered why it has such a positive impact.

It all seems to be do with a gene, OXR1, that influences longevity and brain health.  Although fasting may affect the gut, it’s also helping genes that protect the brain from neurological diseases, say researchers from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

The discovery has so far been seen only in fruit flies and human cells and so it may not be replicated in people, the researchers warn.

They scanned around 200 strains of flies with different genetic backgrounds which were fed either a normal diet or one that was just 10 percent of that.  The flies had five genes that affected longevity, and two of these are also in humans, including OXR1 (Oxidation Resistance 1).  OXR1 loss in people causes severe neurological problems, such as cognitive issues and memory loss, and premature death.

The researchers discovered that OXR1 affects a set of proteins that are responsible for recycling cell proteins and lipids, or fats.  The proteins, known as the retromer, influence the development of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s in people.

In turn, fasting helps OXR1 genes enhance retromer function.  “Diet is influencing this gene.  By eating less, you are actually improving this mechanism of proteins being sorted properly in your cells, because your cells are enhancing the expression of OXR1,” said Kenneth Wilson, one of the researchers.

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Nature Communications, 2024; 15: doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-44343-3
Article Topics: brain health, diet, Fasting, longevity
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