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Intermittent fasting, magnesium, cancer prevention, and elephants.

It is said that elephants never forget, which would be hard to know without giving them a quiz, but they do rarely get cancer and scientists have learned that a protein, p53, is involved. The elephant's version of the p53 gene has many copies compared to the number that humans have so it may be more active. The protein is involved in identifying damaged cells and recycling them for reuse of the nutrients. (1)

Cells with damaged DNA may start replicating out of control and form cancerous tumors. The p53 protein helps with identifying those cells and recycling the nutrients in a process called apoptosis. The trace mineral magnesium is used by white blood cells to end the life of the damaged cell and then it is absorbed and repackaged into units of usable nutrients called vesicles. (2, 3) If cells are simply broken with a wounding trauma the interior contents of the cell spill into the surrounding tissue and can cause further inflammatory damage. Apoptosis is a controlled way to remove cells that are infected or have damaged DNA and the material is absorbed and repackaged within white blood cells.

Apoptosis refers to the removal of one damaged cell and autophagy refers to the more general process of safely recycling excess cellular proteins or cells. Having efficient autophagy and apoptosis seems to help protect elephants from getting cancer, (1), and may also help them have good memories - still waiting on the quiz results though. Autophagy seems to be important for helping prevent humans from developing Alzheimer's dementia which involves and excess buildup of tangled fibrous proteins. The protein tangles lead to inflammation, scarring, and eventually death of brain cells. (4)

During normal aging brain cells rarely die. Forgetfulness associated with typical aging involves losing connections between brain cells and staying mentally active with puzzles, classes, and social events can help retain memory and build more memories. Positive emotions such as happiness, gratitude, joy, laughter, friendship and love, seem to help us remain flexible in our thinking abilities rather than being stuck in obsessive thought patterns. (5)

Intermittent fasting may help humans to have more efficient autophagy - simple scarcity of nutrients may be involved. If there is always plentiful or excess nutrients and storing it in fat cells is a daily task then why would white blood cells need to break down excess old material for reuse? Or how might there be time and energy to focus on identifying old or infected, or damaged cells to be removed and reused? Intermittent fasting might involve only consuming calorie free beverages such as water, unsweetened tea or coffee and very low calorie vegetables or not snacking in the evening and/or delaying breakfast until mid-morning, with a goal of not having caloric foods except for 8-10 hours out of the 24 most days of the week. Or limiting total calorie intake to 60% of the usual need for 2-3 days each week, for the purposes of losing some extra weight. (6)

  • More information about magnesium and health: Magnesium – essential for eighty percent of our body’s chemistry.

  • To have adequate reserve supplies of magnesium requires also having adequate amounts of protein and phospholipids. Magnesium is an electrically active trace mineral and the body has a variety of ways to keep only a safe amount in the active form. Extra supplies are helpful in case of physical trauma or infection and protein and phospholipid molecules (ATP) can hold magnesium in an electrically inactive form. More information and food or topical sources of magnesium and food sources of phospholipids are discussed in this post: To have optimal Magnesium needs Protein and Phospholipids too. Symptoms and chronic conditions that may be associated with deficiency of phospholipids/cannabinoids is included in this post: Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency, (CED), and phospholipids.

  • Protein rich foods include meats, dairy foods, fish and shellfish, nuts, beans, and seeds, and are also found to a lesser extent in other vegetables and grains. As we age we become more likely to break down muscle and proteins and less able to rebuild. Having protein food throughout the day rather than having a very large amount at dinner and not much at breakfast may help prevent the loss of muscle that is common with aging (sarcopenia). A goal of 20 -30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner may help us retain more muscle tissue and other proteins after the age of 30. (7, 8) Based on average or ideal body weight the amount of protein for older adults to help prevent sarcopenia, loss of muscle, may need to be 1.0-1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, (9), so a smaller adult would need smaller portions than a larger person but both would have a larger goal than during younger years of life, (0.8 grams/kilogram ideal body weight/day). (10) This amount of protein might be less than a large dinner serving but would be more than is typically found in an average breakfast.

  • The other meal planning need to keep in mind as we age is that overall we need fewer calories. Choosing more low calorie, nutrient dense vegetables and protein choices can help us meet the protein and trace mineral and vitamin needs along with smaller portions of whole grains and fruits so the total calorie intake is still supporting autophagy and apoptosis of damaged or infected cells or other cellular debris such as the protein tangles involved in Alzheimer's dementia risk. Alzheimer's seems to be a problem that develops gradually over decades before symptoms become obvious at which point the brain cell death has already occurred. We can build new connections after stroke damage by practicing the skills again but once brain cells have died it is rare to be able to grow new ones, so healthy lifestyles throughout life help protect our brain and body.

The quiz - what might help protect against cancer and Alzheimer's dementia - for humans? - Adequate magnesium, protein, phospholipids, and avoiding excessive calories possibly by inclucing intermittent fasting in your daily routine- which might be as simple as not snacking late at night or delaying breakfast until mid-morning.

And don't forget the joy factor! Positive attitudes seem to be protective of a good memory (11) and general health. Staying socially active and mentally active also seems protective, (12) and knowing or learning a second language may also be protective. (13) The majority of the world's human population is multilingual, knowing two or more languages, with fewer people only knowing one language, (14), - so that is something to be positive about, or positive motivation to start practicing! Ciao, Bonjour, ¿Qué tal?, Nǐn hǎo Salut, Guten tag, Zdravstvuyte, Konnichiwa, Hello, Asalaam alaikum (Peace be upon you.) (

An elephant is observed in closeup holding a paintbrush in its trunk and is painting a picture that appears to be a bouquet of flowers.
Artistic and other activities can help prevent forgetfulness as we age.


  1. Sam Wong, Elephants almost never get cancer thanks to multiple gene copies, Oct. 8, 2015,,

  2. Chen Y, Gao T, Wang Y, Yang G. Investigating the Influence of Magnesium Ions on p53-DNA Binding Using Atomic Force Microscopy. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(7):1585. Published 2017 Jul 21. doi:10.3390/ijms18071585

  3. Yu X, Riley T, Levine AJ., The regulation of the endosomal compartment by p53 the tumor suppressor gene. FEBS J. 2009 Apr;276(8):2201-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2009.06949.x. Epub 2009 Mar 3.

  4. Jie Liu, Lian Li, Targeting Autophagy for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease: Challenges and Opportunities. Front. Mol. Neurosci., 22 August 2019,,

  5. Wang Y, Chen J, Yue Z. Positive Emotion Facilitates Cognitive Flexibility: An fMRI Study. Front Psychol. 2017;8:1832. Published 2017 Oct 31. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01832

  6. Corey A. Rynders, Elizabeth A. Thomas, Adnin Zaman, et al., Effectiveness of Intermittent Fasting and Time-Restricted Feeding Compared to Continuous Energy Restriction for Weight Loss. Nutrients 2019, 11(10), 2442;

  7. Becky Dorner, Mary Ellen Posthauer, Nutrition’s Role in Sarcopenia Prevention. Today’s Dietitian, Sept. 2012, Vol. 14 No. 9 P. 62,

  8. Sarcopenia with Aging,,

  9. Nowson C, O'Connell S. Protein Requirements and Recommendations for Older People: A Review. Nutrients. 2015;7(8):6874–6899. Published 2015 Aug 14. doi:10.3390/nu7085311

  10. Daniel Pendick, How much protein do you need every day?, JJune 18, 2015,

  11. Nuns Offer Clues to Alzheimer's and Aging, The New York Times, May 7, 2001,

  12. Alissa Sauer, What Nuns Are Teaching Us About Alzheimer’s,,

  13. University of Waterloo, What multilingual nuns can tell us about dementia., September 12, 2019,

  14. The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual, Cerebrum, Dana Foundation,,


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