How fasting diets could harm future generations

Published by  Communications

On 12th May 2021

Fasting diets could impact the health of future generations according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Fasting diets have risen in popularity in recent years, however little is known about the long-term impact of these diets, particularly for 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 – particularly when those descendants have access to unlimited food.

Lead researcher Dr Edward Ivimey-Cook, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “We know that reduced food intake increases the lifespan in many animals and can potentially improve health in humans. However, little is known about the long-term effects of reduced food intake, including time-limited fasting, on distant descendants.

“We wanted to find out more about the potential long-term impact of fasting diets.”

The team investigated the effect of time-limited fasting on lifespan and reproduction in roundworms and across three generations of their descendants.

They studied more than 2,500 worms split across four generations. The first generation of worms were placed in one of four environments, including being able to eat as much as they liked, and being on a fasting diet.

Four generations of offspring from these parents were then placed onto either full-feeding or fasting diets.

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 like, and cumulative fasting for four generations.

Dr Ivimey-Cook said: “We looked at what happens in roundworms. Unlike us, they’re transparent, about 1mm long and live in the soil.

“They don’t have bones, a heart, or a circulatory system. But they’re a classic model organism for studying the ageing process in biology because they do share many genes and molecular pathways that control development with humans.

“They are also really useful because they have a short life cycle of only two weeks, so we can study their development and that of generations of their offspring in a short amount of time. Doing a similar study across humans could take a century or more!

“We found that fasting did indeed increase their lifespan and it also improved offspring performance in terms of reproduction, when offspring themselves were fasting.

“However, we were surprised to find that fasting reduced offspring performance when the offspring had access to unlimited food.

“And this detrimental effect was evident in grand-offspring and great-grand-offspring.

“This shows that fasting can be costly for descendants and this effect may last for generations.

“There has been a lot of interest in the potential benefits of fasting in promoting healthy ageing in humans. 

“A lot of the molecular pathways involved in the fasting response are evolutionarily conserved, which means the same pathways exist across a multitude of species including humans.

“So our study strongly prompts us to consider 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 detrimental impact may 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).

Transgenerational fitness effects of lifespan extension by dietary restriction in Caenorhabditis elegans” is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Study with us

Explore our research

Latest News

  News
Children and adults at ribbon cutting at IntoUniversity and UEA education centre opening event
17 Sep 2021

Thousands of local young people set to benefit as new education centre officially opens its doors

A new education centre was officially opened in West Earlham, one which is set to benefit thousands of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in...

Read more >
  News
DNA
16 Sep 2021

Times Higher Education table puts UEA in the world’s top 100 for Life Sciences

The University of East Anglia (UEA) has maintained its place as a world top 100 university for Life Sciences degrees in the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE)...

Read more >
  News
16 Sep 2021

Vattenfall partnership to unlock benefits of offshore wind to the region

The University of East Anglia (UEA) and Vattenfall have announced a partnership that will place the East of England at the forefront of the offshore wind...

Read more >
  News
16 Sep 2021

How climate change could impact algae in the global ocean

Global warming is likely to cause abrupt changes to important algal communities because of shifting biodiversity ‘break point’ boundaries in the oceans –...

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
  News
16 Sep 2021

How climate change could impact algae in the global ocean

Global warming is likely to cause abrupt changes to important algal communities because of shifting biodiversity ‘break point’ boundaries in the oceans –...

Read more >
  News
15 Sep 2021

UEA breakthrough could protect against breast cancer progression

Leading scientists have identified a possible link between antibiotic use and the speed of breast cancer growth in mice, and identified a type of immune cell...

Read more >
  News
15 Sep 2021

Ambitious research to study fundamental earth and environmental science questions

The University of East Anglia is leading one of five innovative new research projects that could push the boundaries of science and help us understand key...

Read more >
  News
08 Sep 2021

£1.4 million UEA project to improve flu jab uptake in care home staff

Researchers at the University of East Anglia are launching a project to increase the number of care home staff that take up the flu vaccine.

Read more >
  News
02 Sep 2021

Indigenous and local communities key to successful nature conservation

Indigenous Peoples and local communities provide the best long-term outcomes for conservation, according to new research from UEA's School of International...

Read more >
  News
Globe on a book
02 Sep 2021

Success in Times Higher Education rankings sees UEA rise to five-year high

The reach of University of East Anglia’s (UEA’s) research around the world was ranked in the global top 50, as part of an international rankings table that saw...

Read more >
  News
24 Aug 2021

UEA part of international team measuring how the Arctic responds to climate change

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have helped develop a new way to measure how Arctic plants respond to climate change.

Read more >