A new study from the National Institute of Ageing found that inducing hunger in fruit flies resulted in a slower ageing process. This led researchers to believe similar results could be seen in other species, including humans. linking the practices of fasting and the pursuit of longevity.
Fasting as we know it, is a form of abstaining from food and drink which can be traced back to ancient civilisation. In more contemporary beliefs such as Islam, fasting promotes focus and humility. For many, it can be deemed a ritual practised for healing. This is a far cry from its introduction into the modern day science of gerontology, as a potential new ground for longevity – a science focused on prolonging ageing.
The (NIA) study from the University of Michigan approached hunger with the flies in two different ways. First, the flies were exposed to food low in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) which are crucial amino acids that come from the food. Although the diet led to them eating more food and consuming more calories, changes in their hunger neurons and their gene expression impacted their physiology. This made them live longer than flies more prone to the high-BCAA food group.
Secondly, the researchers also incorporated stimulating neurons in the brain associated with hunger via genetic manipulations. Meaning the flies with activated hunger neurons consumed twice as much but lived longer, compared with those whose neurons were not activated. These findings suggest that the brain circuits that link hunger to aging may reset appetite levels and slow the ageing.
One of the researchers, Kristy Weaver, said, “We think we’ve created a type of insatiable hunger in flies, and by doing so, the flies lived longer.”
While the study was predominantly conducted on fruit flies, researchers speculate that perhaps similar findings could be seen in other species, including humans. Researchers proclaim “there’s every reason to expect that the mechanisms discovered are likely to modulate hunger drives in other species”.
In tandem, these findings are not entirely new, for a 2019 article from the University of Southern California (USC) Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, explored the relation of fasting and longevity in contrast to the hunger and age progression experimented on the flies. The article suggested that a fasting diet could progress cellular repair and improve health. Where a steady diet of abundant greens, healthy fats, forms of carbohydrates, and low protein would modulate the idea of fasting leading to a path of longevity.
The idea would be pursued by Valter Longo, a professor at USC Leonard Davis, saying, “If we can understand how fasting works, we can try to create drugs that mimic this effect.” Longo would provide the alternate idea by issuing fasting techniques in a day-to-day lifestyle, he said, it “doesn’t require people to change their habits, but it does require them to maybe once in a while make smaller changes.”
Longo’s exploration of hunger as a means to extend life is not unheard of. The recent studies on fruit flies add a new angle of understanding to the potential benefits of fasting being a healing form of practice. So, as research continues, it may become more apparent that the way to a longer and healthier life is not what we eat but how we eat.
By learning more about how hunger affects aging, it is possible that we may start to see changes in how we approach food. Instead of avoiding our own hunger at all costs, we may start to see it as an opportunity to reset our appetite levels and potentially extend our lifespan little by little.
Obviously however, it’s worth noting that the studies were predominantly conducted on fruit flies after the manipulation of their neurological systems. Therefore, more research is needed to understand how hunger affects ageing in humans with our own distinct neurological systems in mind.
With that awareness in hand, the results of these studies suggest that there may be more to hunger than we initially realised. So, as we wait for more research to be conducted, it’s worth considering the potential benefits of incorporating hunger via the approach of fasting into our lives. While it may be uncomfortable at first, the potential benefits may be worth it in the long run.