Diet trends like intermittent fasting and ketogenesis are proving wildly popular for their rapid weight-loss effects, but scientists are also starting to uncover how they might benefit the body in other, longer term ways. Case in point: a molecule produced during fasting has now been found to apply the brakes to aging of the vascular system, a process closely tied to the aging of the human body as a whole.

When the body enters ketosis, a metabolic state induced by fasting and low-carb diets, it turns to the body’s stored fats for energy, rather than glucose. One of these sources of energy, known collectively as ketones, is a molecule called β-Hydroxybutyrate.

“Previously, studies on ketone bodies focused on energy metabolism, but this study showed that there are other physiological effects which regulate cell cycle to retardate aging progression,” study senior author Dr. Ming-Hui Zou tells New Atlas.

One such earlier study, at Harvard University last year, demonstrated how fasting can alter the activity of mitochondrial networks inside our cells, leading to increased lifespan, slower aging and improved health.

Zou and his team at Georgia State University set out to explore how heightened β-Hydroxybutyrate levels might have similar effects by interfering with what are known as senescent cells, which are cells that are no longer able to multiply and divide.

The scientists found that β-Hydroxybutyrate puts the brakes on senescent vascular cells at just the right time, actively promoting cell division and preventing them from growing old. When injected into mice, it was also found to promote stem cell factors that protect against DNA-related senescence to keep blood vessels young.

“We think this is a very important discovery, and we are working on finding a new chemical that can mimic the effect of this ketone body’s function,” says Zou. “We’re trying to take the global approach to reducing cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s difficult to convince people not to eat for the next 24 hours to increase the concentration of this compound, and not everybody can do that, but if we can find something that can mimic this effect and people can still eat, it would make life more enjoyable and help fight disease.”

The research was published in the journal Molecular Cell.

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