Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Feast or Fast?
05 July 2014

Feast or Fast?

On Thursdays so-and-so only eats walnuts, and what’s-his-name hasn’t eaten anything but goji berries all day. The 5:2 diet has come in with such a bang that some of us feel we’re coaxing death by sticking to the 7:0. Fasting, everyone’s at it – even microscopic worms. A new study has found that when the tiny nematode worm C. elegans (pictured with red-coloured sex cells and green-labelled muscle cells) is deprived of food, its cells and organs enter an ageless state of arrested development. When food becomes plentiful again, the worm develops normally, but lives twice as long as its free-feeding counterparts. Starvation doubles its two-week lifespan. Food deprivation can also extend the lifespan of rats, mice, flies, spiders, fish and monkeys by 30 to 200 per cent. This study has implications not only for ageing, but also for explaining how cancer cells lie dormant for years before reawakening.

Written by Nick Kennedy

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