According to a team of researchers from the University of Southern California, fasting may just be the trick you need to reset your immune system. In fact, they say, fasting for as little as three days may even regenerate the entire human immune system.
If further research can support their findings, this will represent a remarkable breakthrough in immune system research.
Historically nutritionists have been highly critical of fasting, but immunologists say the new findings could have major health implications.
In particular, it’s believed that fasting helps kickstart new white blood cell production, which offers an immune system boost. As a result, fasting could prove tremendously beneficial for those with damaged immune systems, such as the elderly or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
For instance, if fasting for 72 hours proves to have real immune system applications, it could be done in combination with chemotherapy to help cancer patients through treatment.
Researchers from the study note that it seems as if fasting “flips a regenerative switch” that forces the body to create new white blood cells, in essence turning over the entire immune system.
And the study’s lead researcher, Professor Valter Longo, of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of California, claims the new study proves fasting can help the immune system reset itself.
“It gives the ‘OK’ for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system. And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting. Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or ageing, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.” Professor Longo said.
In the experimental trials part of the study, participants were asked to regularly fast for between two and four days over a period of six months. What the researchers found was that fasting, in addition to helping reboot the immune system, reduces the enzyme PKA, a hormone which increases cancer risk and tumor growth that is linked to ageing.
The team believes that because fasting forces the body to use stored glycogen and fat, it breaks down the existing white blood cells, which in turn triggers the production of new ones.
“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system. When you starve, the system tries to save energy and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged,” Professor Longo added.