December 26, 2019
Intermittent fasting, a diet approach where you rotate periods of eating with periods of fasting, has been popular for a while among fitness crowds, but research showing that certain types of intermittent fasting may actually help people live longer, healthier lives is growing.
A new review of previous studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that intermittent fasting can help stabilize blood sugar and decrease blood pressure and blood lipid levels. It can also improve how one's body handles stress and aid in weight loss.
The study focused on two intermittent fasting schedules: People who only ate during a six- to eight- hour window each day and those who, for two days a week, only ate one meal of a moderate size.
According to co-author Mark Mattson, a neuroscience professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, there are several animal and human studies that have provided promising data on the health benefits of intermittent fasting.
How does intermittent fasting work? Mattson explained to CNN that it works on a cellular level "triggering metabolic switching" where "cells use up their full stores and covert fat to energy."
One small 2018 study mentioned in the review followed three men with type 2 diabetes who, after losing weight from intermittent fasting didn't have to take insulin anymore.
Dr. Guy L. Mintz, director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in New York, however, told USA Today that intermittent fasting is challenging and is not right for every person.
In some studies, he said, patients actually were found to be eating more on their fasting days and less on the days they were allowed to eat more. Mintz was not a part of the review article.
"Intermittent fasting may not be a good diet for diabetic patients on medications and/or insulin that could have swings in blood sugar," Mintz said. "Intermittent fasting is not for older patients. Hypoglycemia needs to be watched, which can lead to falls."
The authors of the latest study also noted that our obsession with food in America would probably prevent intermittent fasting from becoming a common practice. They wrote, "A diet of three meals with snacks every day is so ingrained in our culture that a change in this eating pattern will rarely be contemplated by patients or doctors. The abundance of food and extensive marketing in developed nations are also major hurdles to be overcome."
The authors also recommend that intermittent fasting be physician-guided so the periods of fasting can be gradual and safer. Also more long-term and more human studies are needed to thoroughly understand possible health benefits of intermittent fasting.