Study Buddy (Challenger): Fasting – as Chris Hemsworth did on Disney+ series Limitless – might help us live longer

  • The scientific theory is that fasting cuts off the supply of glucose to ‘zombie cells’, preventing them from secreting harmful proteins and molecules
  • This page is for students who want to take their understanding to the next level with difficult vocabulary and questions to test their inference skills
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In the Disney+ show, Chris Hemsworth explores different ways to live longer. Photo: Disney+

Content provided by British Council

Read the following text, and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] Thor actor Chris Hemsworth fasted for five days in a bid to stay young for his Disney+ show Limitless, in which he explores different ways humans can live better for longer by taking on physical challenges. The extreme challenge was based on the scientific theory that fasting stops the spread of toxic secretions from so-called zombie cells, which accelerate the ageing process. But does it actually work?

[2] Zombie cells are damaged cells that have gone through senescence, or deterioration due to ageing, and are no longer useful. Instead of dying, these cells secrete proteins and inflammatory molecules that “infect” healthy cells, turning them senescent too. This speeds up the ageing process.

[3] In a 2011 study published in the British scientific journal Nature, it was found that eliminating these senescent cells “forestalled many of the ravages of age”. Experiments on mice since this initial discovery have confirmed that senescent cells accumulate in ageing organs, and eliminating them can alleviate, or even prevent, certain illnesses.

[4] Eradicating these cells in mice has been shown to restore fitness and kidney function, mend damaged cartilage and extend lifespan. Fasting is one potential way of stopping zombie cells from releasing these harmful molecules.

[5] Glucose from food fuels the trillions of cells in the body, including zombie cells. Cutting off the supply of glucose to these damaged cells can prevent them from secreting harmful proteins and molecules. This in turn slows the process of ageing and staves off diseases such as cancer, dementia and arthritis.

[6] But research so far has only been conducted on mice, so fasting’s full impact on human ageing is still unknown. And despite their zombie nickname, senescent cells do have a positive role to play in the body. The senescence process stops the spread of damaged mutated cells. Research from the University of California has also demonstrated that senescent cells help to heal damaged tissue. That study, published in the American scientific journal Science, found some zombie cells were embedded in young tissue and promoted normal repair from damage. They also found that senescent cells exist in young and healthy tissues from birth.

[7] For fasting, which foods to cut out and how long to fast for is still up for debate. A study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that different forms of dietary restriction had the potential to slow immunosenescence – ageing’s effects on the immune system – in mice. These included consuming only water for 48 hours at a time; or existing on a low-protein, low-sugar, high-fat, low-calorie diet for two to five days between longer periods on a standard diet.

[8] A study published in the scientific journal Nature Aging found that intermittent fasting for 12 to 48 hours every one to seven days, and periodic fasting for two to seven days once per month or less, had the potential to prevent and treat disease. Scientists are trying to develop drugs that can deliver the same benefits that dietary restrictions do.

[9] Still, the proven path to longevity is to eat healthily, exercise regularly, sleep well every night and avoid stress. “We don’t know how much fasting we really have to do ... before it becomes detrimental,” said Professor Ilaria Bellatuono, co-director of the Healthy Lifespan Institute at the University of Sheffield in the UK.
Source: South China Morning Post, February 19


1. In paragraph 1, Chris Hemsworth finds various ways to ...
A. achieve immortality.
B. attain superpowers.
C. perform impossible feats.
D. none of the above

2. What does the “extreme challenge” in paragraph 1 refer to?

3. According to paragraph 2, what effect do zombie cells have on regular cells?

4. Find a word in paragraph 3 that means to “make something less severe”.

5. According to paragraph 5, how does fasting slow the ageing process in mice?

6. Which of the following is a likely conclusion from the research mentioned in paragraph 6?
A. The number of senescent cells increases with age, and they contribute to illnesses such as cancer, dementia and cardiovascular disease.
B. Senescent cells accumulate with age and are associated with many diseases that people experience later in life.
C. Senescent cells are not solely harmful “zombies” that should be wiped out to prevent age-related diseases.
D. all of the above

7. What does Professor Ilaria Bellatuono advocate for living longer?

8. Decide whether the following statements are True, False, or if the information is Not Given in the text. Blacken ONE circle only for each statement. (4 marks)
(i) According to a study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, a strict no-sugar diet was more effective in slowing immunosenescence in mice compared to a low-calorie diet.
(ii) The study published in Nature Aging explored how particular diets could be more prone to triggering the development of zombie cells.
(iii) A study published in Science looked into ways of eliminating senescent cells from teenagers’ bodies.
(iv) According to research published in Nature, reducing the number of senescent cells in our bodies could help avoid certain age-related diseases.

9. Which of the following best describes the article’s tone regarding fasting’s effect on zombie cells?
A. sceptical
B. impartial
C. prejudiced
D. persuasive

Research on fasting’s effect on “zombie cells” so far has only been conducted on mice, so the impact on human ageing still needs to be explored. Photo: Shutterstock


1. D
2. Chris Hemsworth fasted for five days.
3. They secrete proteins and inflammatory molecules that “infect” healthy cells, making them age and deteriorate too.
4. alleviate
5. Fasting cuts off the supply of glucose to zombie cells, which can prevent them from secreting harmful proteins and molecules. This in turn slows the ageing process.
6. C
7. eat healthily, exercise regularly, have a good night’s sleep every night and avoid stress
8. (i) NG; (ii) F; (iii) F; (iv) T
9. B

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