"We found that intermittent fasting caused a slight increase in SIRT3, a well-known gene that promotes longevity and is involved in protective cell responses," said Michael Guo, a student at Harvard Medical School.

The SIRT3 gene encodes a protein also called SIRT3 that belongs to a class of proteins known as sirtuins. Sirtuins, if increased in mice, can extend their lifespans.

"The hypothesis is that if the body is intermittently exposed to low levels of oxidative stress, it can build a better response to it. The intermittent fasting also decreases insulin levels in the participants, which means the diet could have an anti-diabetic effect as well.''

The group recruited 24 participants in the clinical trial. During a three-week period, the participants alternated one day of eating 25 percent of their daily caloric intake with one day of eating 175 percent of their daily caloric intake.

To test antioxidant supplements, the participants repeated the diet but also included vitamin C and vitamin E. The beneficial sirtuin proteins such as SIRT3 and SIRT1, tended to increase as a result of the diet.

However, when antioxidants were supplemented on top of the diet, some of these increases disappeared."Most of the participants found that fasting was easier than the feasting day, which was a little bit surprising to me," Guo added.

"The future studies should examine a larger cohort of participants and should include a larger number of genes in the participants."The study appeared in the journal Rejuvenation Research.

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