Intermittent fasting (IF) is gaining popularity as an alternative strategy for weight loss and management, but are there other benefits to it beyond that?
Health benefits of intermittent fasting beyond weight loss
Prof. Valter Longo and his colleagues published a review in the esteemed journal Nature Aging, in which they emphasized the numerous advantages of IF, which go beyond just loosing weight (1). Prof. Longo is a prominent researcher in longevity medicine and the Director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California.
One of the key benefits of IF is increased stress resistance (2). Fasting triggers a response in the body that is similar to what happens during exercise, which can increase resistance to stress (more about how to manage stress here) and improve overall health.
Another benefit of IF is reduced inflammation (3). Studies have shown that fasting can reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory markers in the body, which can lead to a lower risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
IF can also improve insulin sensitivity, which is important for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes (4). By limiting the intake of carbohydrates and other sources of glucose, the body becomes more efficient at using insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells where it can be used for energy. High sugar consumption (more about the effects of sugar here) is associated with an increased risk of metabolic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Sugar consumption leads to increased insulin secretion, which can contribute to insulin resistance, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Reducing sugar intake may be a key component of a healthy diet and may be particularly important for individuals who are implementing intermittent or periodic fasting regimens.
In addition, IF has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer (5)-(6). Fasting can improve several cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. It can also promote the death of damaged or cancerous cells, while preserving healthy cells, which can reduce the risk of cancer. IF has also been shown to improve cognitive function, particularly in older adults (2), (7). Fasting can stimulate the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that promotes the growth and survival of neurons in the brain. Lastly, studies have suggested that IF can increase lifespan, at least in certain species (8)-(9). Fasting has been shown to activate certain genetic pathways that are involved in promoting longevity, although more research is needed to fully understand this effect in humans.
While IF can offer several health benefits, it is important to note that it is not suitable for everyone. Individuals with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, eating disorders, or pregnant or breastfeeding women, should not engage in IF without consulting their healthcare professional. Moreover, it is essential to discuss any dietary changes, including IF, with a healthcare professional to ensure that they are safe and appropriate for one’s individual health needs.
In conclusion, IF can be a beneficial approach to weight management and overall health. However, it is crucial to consider individual factors and medical history before embarking on an IF regimen. By doing so, individuals can ensure that they are making informed choices about their diet and lifestyle to achieve optimal health and wellbeing. Overall, while more research is needed to fully understand the benefits and mechanisms of IF, the existing evidence suggests that it can improve overall health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and increase lifespan.
Read more about intermittent fasting:
- Longo VD, Tano MD, Mattson MP, Guidi N. Intermittent and periodic fasting, longevity and disease. Nat Aging. 2021 Jan;1(1):47.
- Mattson MP. Energy Intake and Exercise as Determinants of Brain Health and Vulnerability to Injury and Disease. Cell Metab. 2012 Dec 5;16(6):706–22.
- Moro T, Tinsley G, Bianco A, Marcolin G, Pacelli QF, Battaglia G, et al. Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. J Transl Med. 2016 Oct 13;14:290.
- Harvie MN, Pegington M, Mattson MP, Frystyk J, Dillon B, Evans G, et al. The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomised trial in young overweight women. Int J Obes 2005. 2011 May;35(5):714–27.
- Buono R, Longo VD. Starvation, Stress Resistance, and Cancer. Trends Endocrinol Metab TEM. 2018 Apr;29(4):271–80.
- Longo VD, Mattson MP. Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications. Cell Metab. 2014 Feb 4;19(2):181–92.
- Brandhorst S, Choi IY, Wei M, Cheng CW, Sedrakyan S, Navarrete G, et al. A periodic diet that mimics fasting promotes multi-system regeneration, enhanced cognitive performance and healthspan. Cell Metab. 2015 Jul 7;22(1):86–99.
- Weir HJ, Yao P, Huynh FK, Escoubas CC, Goncalves RL, Burkewitz K, et al. Dietary Restriction and AMPK Increase Lifespan via Mitochondrial Network and Peroxisome Remodeling. Cell Metab. 2017 Dec 5;26(6):884-896.e5.
- Goodrick CL, Ingram DK, Reynolds MA, Freeman JR, Cider NL. Effects of Intermittent Feeding Upon Growth and Life Span in Rats. Gerontology. 2009 Apr 6;28(4):233–41.