Fasting diets could impact the health of future generations, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Fasting diets have grown in popularity in recent years, but little is known about the long-term impact of such diets, especially on future generations.
New research, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, reveals that reduced food intake in roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans) has a detrimental effect on three generations of offspring – especially when those offspring have access to unlimited food.
Principal Investigator Dr Edward Ivimey-Cook, UEA School of Biological Sciences, said: “We know that reduced food consumption increases the lifespan of many animals and has the potential to improve health. humans. However, little is known about the long-term effects of reduced food intake, including time-limited fasting, in distant offspring.
“We wanted to know more about the potential long-term impact of fasting diets.”
The team studied the effect of time-limited fasting on lifespan and reproduction in roundworms and three generations of their offspring.
They studied more than 2,500 worms spread over four generations. The first generation of worms were placed in one of four environments, which included being able to eat as much as they wanted and going on a diet on an empty stomach.
Four generations of offspring from these parents were then placed on a full or fasting diet.
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 are able to eat as much as they want, and cumulative fasting for four generations.
Dr Ivimey-Cook said: “We have looked at what goes on in roundworms. Unlike us, they are transparent, are about 1mm long, and live in the ground.
“They don’t have bones, hearts or circulatory systems. But they are a classic model organism for studying the aging process in biology, as 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 only two weeks, so we can study their development and that of generations of their descendants in a short time. Doing a similar study in humans could take a century or more. .!
“We found that fasting indeed increased their lifespan and also improved the reproductive performance of the offspring, when the offspring themselves fasted.
“However, we were surprised to find that fasting reduced the performance of the offspring when the offspring had access to unlimited food.
“And this detrimental effect was evident in the big-little ones and the great-big-little ones.
“It shows that fasting can be costly for the offspring and that this effect can last for generations.
“The potential benefits of fasting in promoting healthy aging in humans have generated a lot of interest.
“Many of the molecular pathways involved in the fasting response are evolutionarily conserved, meaning the same pathways exist across a multitude of species, including humans.
“Our study therefore strongly encourages us to consider the multigenerational effects of fasting in different organisms, including humans.
“This is really important because it means we need to carefully consider the long term effects of fasting when trying to pursue healthy lifestyles – because the damaging impact can only manifest itself in distant generations.”
The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the European Research Council (ERC).