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New research in animal subjects suggests that ketogenic diets help muscle stem cells survive stress, and scientists believe the same could be true for humans.
Stanford Medicine University researchers conducted the dietary study in lab mice and published their results in June in Cell Metabolism – a health science journal.
The study was implemented to investigate the effects of high-fat, low-carb diets and short-term fasting on muscle regeneration, as there is little research on the subject.
Keto diets are a popular weight loss tactic that people use by eating a high amount of healthy fats – usually 55% to 60% broken down – while eating a low amount of carbs – usually 5% to 10% broken down. This puts the body into a state called “ketosis”, which prioritizes fat as a fuel source and leads to a reduction in body fat over time.
“We show that ketosis, either produced endogenously during fasting or a ketogenic diet, or administered exogenously, promotes a deep resting state in muscle stem cells (MuSCs),” the Stanford researchers wrote.
Fasting, on the other hand, appears to slow “muscle repair both immediately after ending the fast and after several days of refeeding,” according to the study results.
The laboratory mice underwent periods of fasting that lasted between one and two and a half days. The mice were “less able” to regenerate new muscles in their hind legs in response to injury compared to a non-fasted control group.
The rodent test subjects had an observable “reduced regenerative capacity” that lasted up to three days after the mice were fed again. Their weight returned to “normal” one week after the end of the fast.
The muscle stem cells of these mice tested were smaller and “divided more slowly” compared to mice whose diets were not interrupted.
The cells were found to be “more resilient” and “survived better” when transplanted and grown on a lab dish.
The researchers tested the rods under “harsh conditions”, which included nutrient deprivation, exposure to cell-damaging chemicals and radiation.
Many cells have been successfully transplanted into laboratory mice. Non-fasted mice had a lower success rate.
“Usually most muscle stem cells grown in the lab die when they are transplanted,” said Thomas Rando, professor of neurology and neuroscience at Stanford University.
“But these cells are in a deep quiescent state that we call deep ketone-induced quiescence that allows them to resist many types of stress,” he continued in a university press release.
Muscle stem cells from fasted and non-fasted mice showed “similar resilience” when treated with beta-hydroxybutyrate – a ketone body, which is a water-soluble molecule responsible for ketogenesis that occurs when fatty acids are produced by the liver.
Muscle stem cells from older mice were treated with ketone bodies for a week, but their cells “grow worse in the lab” compared to their younger counterparts. However, these muscle stem cells survived just as well.
Rando said in a statement that cells have evolved to survive times of abundance and deprivation, which includes access to food.
“Ketone bodies arise when the body uses fat for energy, but they also push stem cells into a resting state that protects them during deprivation,” he said. “In this state, they are protected from environmental stress, but they are also less able to regenerate damaged tissue.”
Stanford University’s press release on the study said the results are intriguing, but need further research.
The university also said the study findings could give clues to the effect of aging on a body’s ability to regenerate and repair damaged tissue.
“As we age, we see slower and less complete healing of our tissues,” Rando said. “We wanted to understand what controls this ability to regenerate and how fasting affects this process. We found that fasting induces the resilience of muscle stem cells so that they survive during deprivation and are available to repair muscles when nutrients are available again.”
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