What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?

By | November 9, 2018
Intermittent fasting refers to an eating cycle that includes periods of fasting of around 12–36 hours. Many proponents of intermittent fasting report improved weight management.

Scientists are conducting many intermittent fasting studies in animals, but some benefits may also apply to humans.

Research links intermittent fasting to benefits including:

  • weight loss
  • improved markers of health
  • a reduced risk of chronic health conditions
  • improved brain health

This article will discuss the top five potential benefits of intermittent fasting and the research to support them.

1. Weight loss

Woman in restaurant drinking water
Research has found that intermittent fasting may help weight loss and management.

Intermittent fasting may drive weight loss by lowering insulin levels.

The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which cells use for energy or convert into fat and store for later use. Insulin is a hormone that allows cells to take in glucose.

Insulin levels drop when a person is not consuming food. During a period of fasting, it is possible that decreasing insulin levels causes cells to release their glucose stores as energy.

Repeating this process regularly, as with intermittent fasting, may lead to weight loss.

Intermittent fasting can also lead to the consumption of fewer calories overall, which may also contribute to weight loss.

What do the studies say?

A 2015 systematic review in the journal Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology examined data from 40 different studies on intermittent fasting. The researchers conclude that it is useful for reducing body weight.

A trial from 2017 compared the impact of intermittent fasting and a typical calorie restriction diet on weight loss over 1 year. Both forms of dieting were similarly effective for weight loss. There were no significant differences between the two groups for other markers of health, such as blood pressure or heart rate.

Most current research suggests that intermittent fasting may be an effective weight management strategy. It is unlikely to be more beneficial than traditional calorie restriction, but some may find intermittent fasting easier.

2. A lower risk of type 2 diabetes

Intermittent fasting may also have benefits for diabetes prevention, as it can help weight loss and potentially influence other factors linked to an increased risk of diabetes.

Being overweight or obese is one of the main risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.

What do the studies say?

Black man taking blood sugar test using glucometer
Further research is required to determine if intermittent fasting helps prevent type 2 diabetes.

A 2014 review paper in the journal Translational Research examined evidence that intermittent fasting can lower blood glucose and insulin levels in people at risk of diabetes. The authors say that intermittent fasting or alternate day fasting are promising for weight loss and reducing diabetes risk. However, more studies are necessary.

Among adults who were overweight and obese, the researchers observed reductions in markers of diabetes, such as insulin sensitivity.

As a result, they suggest that intermittent fasting could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in this group of people.

However, a 2018 rat study published in the journal Endocrine Abstracts suggests that intermittent fasting could increase the risk of diabetes. The study tracked the results of intermittent fasting in rats over a 3-month period.

While there was a reduction in weight and food intake, there was an increase in abdominal fat tissue, a decrease in muscle, and signs of the body not using insulin properly. These are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

Scientists need to replicate the results of this study, and further research is now necessary to find out whether these findings in rats apply to humans.

3. Improved heart health

Researchers have also found that intermittent fasting could improve aspects of cardiovascular health.

What do the studies say?

A review from 2016 reports that intermittent fasting could lead to a reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and triglycerides in both humans and animals. Triglycerides are a type of fat present in the blood that has links to heart disease.

4. Improved brain health

Studies in mice have shown that intermittent fasting could improve brain health.

What do the studies say?

Person reading from book and writing in chalk on board, studying and teaching
Intermittent fasting may benefit brain health by preventing inflammation.

One study found that mice that were on a brief intermittent fasting diet had better learning and memory than mice with free access to food.

Further research in animals suggests that intermittent fasting can suppress inflammation in the brain, which has links to neurological conditions.

Other animal studies have found that intermittent fasting can reduce the risk of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.

More research is necessary to investigate whether these findings apply to humans.

5. A reduced risk of cancer

Animal studies also suggest that intermittent fasting may help reduce the risk of cancer.

What do the studies say?

A series of recent studies in animals indicate that restrictive diets such as intermittent fasting could delay the onset of tumors. However, no current studies have established links between intermittent fasting and cancer in humans.

Obesity is a risk factor for many different cancers, so the weight loss aspect of intermittent fasting could be responsible for the reduced cancer risk that some studies hint at.

Intermittent fasting can also decrease several biological factors with links to cancer, such as insulin levels and inflammation.

There are signs that intermittent fasting could reduce the risk of cancer. However, further research in humans is necessary to support this claim.

Takeaway

Research suggests that intermittent fasting could have a variety of health benefits. For example, intermittent fasting may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Animal research suggests that intermittent fasting may also have further benefits in reducing the risk of cancer and several neurological conditions.

Research into the benefits of intermittent fasting is not yet conclusive. In fact, a 2015 review that appears in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains that many more studies will be necessary before doctors can recommend intermittent fasting for clinical use.

There is a particular need for research that focuses on translating findings from animal studies into humans.

There is no substantial evidence to support many of the health claims of intermittent fasting, but research does show that it can aid weight loss.

Generally, studies suggest that intermittent fasting is as effective as traditional calorie restriction methods when it comes to reducing weight and body fat. It may also be easier to stick to than traditional methods of weight loss, such as calorie restriction.

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