Research conducted at Massachusetts Institute of technology where mice have been used indicates that when fats are broken down in the intestine they form ketone bodies which enhance the number of adult stem cells. These cells are required for the intestinal lining to be healthy. When compared with mice that were given a regular diet, a ketogenic diet is much more beneficial.
The adult stems cells can produce ketones much more effectively if the diet is not a high-fat diet. A ketogenic diet gives the adult stem cells a regenerative boost and that in turn makes it much easier for them to overcome any harm to the intestinal lining.
Aiding Regeneration of damaged tissue
Ketone bodies improve cell to cell communication by triggering the Notch signaling pathway which plays a vital role in the communication of adult stem cells that helps in the regeneration of damaged tissue as well. The study is published in the journal cell.
This was found out when rats were fed a diet high in sugar which led to a decline in the production of stem cells and ketones which in turn badly affected the replacement of intestinal lining and damaged it. But in mice that were fed a keto diet, the exact opposite was observed. Their ability to regenerate damaged tissue was much enhanced and so was the number of ketones and stem cells in the intestine
Adult stem cells play a key role in the gut as they aid the replacement of intestinal lining by differentiating into new cells. A study on aged mice indicates that fasting improves this role of stem cells in the intestine to a great degree.
Dr. Omer Yilmaz, Senior Author says, “These ketone bodies, which are normally thought to play a critical role in energy maintenance during times of nutritional stress, engage the Notch pathway to enhance stem cell function. Changes in ketone body levels in different nutritional states or diets enable stem cells to adapt to different physiologies.”
Role of enzymes in ketogenesis and its effect
Researchers have carried out an analysis of gene expression data in order to see how metabolism affects the stem cells in the intestine. The enzymes that generate ketone are found in a greater number in the stem cells located in the intestine than in other cells. In fact, these enzymes are involved in breaking down fats into ketone bodies.
“Intestinal stem cells can generate ketone bodies by themselves, and use them to sustain their own stemness through fine-tuning a hardwired developmental pathway that controls cell lineage and fate,” said Dr. Chia-Wei Cheng, lead author of the study.
These findings indicate that any diet that is low on carbohydrates triggers ketogenesis and increases the number of stems cells. Another factor that stimulates ketogenesis is food deprivation. If food is scarcely available the intestine keeps the stem cell activity on hold so that when food is consumed these cells jump into action and help in the maintenance of the intestinal lining.
This new research supports the previous findings of Yilmaz which supported the notion that high-fat diet and fasting both simultaneously work together in improving the working of intestinal stem cells. The study shows that a low intake of carbohydrate initiates ketogenesis and healthy growth of stem cells.
“Ketone bodies become highly induced in the intestine during periods of food deprivation and play an important role in the process of preserving and enhancing stem cell activity,” says Yilmaz.
“When food isn’t readily available, it might be that the intestine needs to preserve stem cell function so that when nutrients become replete, you have a pool of very active stem cells that can go on to repopulate the cells of the intestine.”
Benefits and Arising possibility
The study has indicated that a ketogenic diet can help in recovering from any kind of damage sustained by the intestinal tissue when people undergo radiotherapy or chemotherapy as well.
The researchers are eager to know which adult stem cells other than the intestinal ones depend on ketone bodies for the regulation of their functions. But this study also gives rise to the possibility that an increase of stem cells by ketonic activity might be linked to cancer because some tumors are produced by stem cells.
Dr. Omer Yilmaz, Senior Author of the study says, “That’s something we want to understand. What role do these ketone bodies play in the early steps of tumor formation, and can driving this pathway too much, either through diet or small molecule mimetics, impact cancer formation? We just don’t know the answer to those questions.”