Intermittent fasting, a possible priming tool for host defense against SARS-CoV-2 infection: Crosstalk among calorie restriction, autophagy and immune response

Written By Claire C

In this article, researchers discuss the possible connections between the pathways associated with intermittent fasting, autophagy, and SARS-CoV-2 infection.  

Published in July 2020 in the journal Immunological Letters. The full article is freely-available online here:

By Abdul Hannan, Ataur Rahman, Saidur Rahman, Abdullah Al Mamun Sohag, Raju Dash, Khandkar Shaharina Hossain, Mithila Farjana, and Jamal Uddin

Background Information:

  • Vulnerability to COVID-19 is enhanced by pre-existing conditions and compromised immune systems 
  • Deregulated immune responses result in immunopathology (immune response caused by a disease)
  • Autophagy is a cellular response system that plays a key role in the regulation of innate and adaptive immunity
    • Innate immunity: nonspecific defense system you’re born with, protects your body against all antigens
    • Adaptive immunity: acquired and developed immunity conferred by antibodies and specialized cells. Induced by by exposure to pathogens.
  • Fasting is connected to an increase in immune system function and activation of autophagy 

SARS-CoV-2 Immune Response:

  • COVID-19 infection triggers a local immune response that causes macrophages and monocytes (white blood cells central to the immune system) to respond to the infection
  • In the majority of cases, the immune response quickly subsides, and patients are able to recover
  • But, in severe cases, a dysfunctional immune response leads to an immunopathological condition called a “cytokine storm”
    • Occurs when the immune system floods your bloodstream with inflammatory proteins known as cytokines
    • Consequences of a cytokine storm: fluid buildup in the lungs, respiratory distress and dysfunction, multi-organ failure.

Autophagy and Your Immune System:

  • Autophagy is a specialized process that occurs inside cells to help balance and regulate cellular activities and components to ensure proper functioning
  • Breakdown and recycling of dysfunctional, lethal, and mutant biomolecules, organelles, and pathogens
  • Associated with cell survival, cell death, aging, and immunity
  • Involved in the activation of the immune system in response to pathogens or infection.
  • Within the innate immune system, autophagy functions to regulate activation, cell survival, cell division, and immune cell renewal.
  • Encourages the release of antibodies and regulates the release of cytokines

Fasting and Autophagy:

  • Autophagy triggered by periods of stress and starvation 
  • mTOR is a cellular component that integrates information about nutrient levels, cellular environment, messages from other cells, and energy levels.
  • During periods of fasting, mTOR acts as a positive regulator of autophagy 
  • Fasting-induced autophagy can help by
    • Priming host immune system
    • Improving cellular resistance to stress

Fasting and Immune Responses:

  • Intermittent fasting helps reduce inflammation, which can help which disease conditions that rely on inflammatory responses
    • Obesity
    • Asthma
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Upregulation of 
    • Metabolism
    • DNA repair
    • Immune system
  • Reduction in fat mass, which can be achieved through intermittent fasting, is correlated with a decrease in cytokines


  • Without a perfect therapeutic treatment for COVID-19, it is important that we focus on preventative measures to prime our immune systems 
  • Intermittent fasting can directly (by activating an immune response) or indirectly (by inducing autophagy) stimulate the body’s immune system and prime host defense systems to handle stress

Important Notes:

  • This research is still extremely new, and we still need more information about it!
  • The majority of the article discusses how the known pathways associated with autophagy, intermittent fasting, and SARS-CoV-2 might interact, but there has been no experimental research done to examine this relationship

Other Fasting Flamingo Autophagy Resources: 

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