Short-term intensive fasting enhances the immune function of red blood cells in humans

Immun Ageing. 2023 Aug 30;20(1):44. doi: 10.1186/s12979-023-00359-3.


Background: Fasting is known to influence the immune functions of leukocytes primarily by regulating their mobilization and redistribution between the bone marrow and the peripheral tissues or circulation, in particular via relocalization of leukocytes back in the bone marrow. However, how the immune system responds to the increased risk of invasion by infectious pathogens with fewer leukocytes in the peripheral blood during fasting intervention remains an open question.

Results: We used proteomic, biochemical and flow cytometric tools to evaluate the impact of short-term intensive fasting (STIF), known as beego, on red blood cells by profiling the cells from the STIF subjects before and after 6 days of fasting and 6 days of gradual refeeding. We found that STIF, by triggering the activation of the complement system via the complement receptor on the membrane of red blood cells, boosts fairly sustainable function of red blood cells in immune responses in close relation to various pathogens, including viruses, bacteria and parasites, particularly with the pronounced capacity to defend against SARS-CoV-2, without compromising their oxygen delivery capacity and viability.

Conclusion: STIF fosters the immune function of red blood cells and therefore, it may be considered as a nonmedical intervention option for the stronger capacity of red blood cells to combat infectious diseases.

Keywords: Fasting; Immune response; Infectious disease; Red blood cells; SARS-CoV-2.