Can Intermittent Fasting Help You Live Longer?

New research suggests that one of the most effective weight loss strategies may be changing not what you eat, but changing when. Time-restricted eating, a form of intermittent fasting, gives you fewer opportunities to eat throughout the day. During periods of prolonged fasting, calories from the previous meal are depleted, forcing the body to start burning body fat. Now, a recent study from the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology at the University of Utah suggests that intermittent fasting may also help you live longer.

In contrast to the average American who eats throughout the day, individuals who commit to intermittent fasting restrict their eating based on the time of day or day of the week. Some choose to eat all of their daily calories within an 8-hour window, followed by a 16-hour period of fasting. Others take the 5:2 approach, in which they eat normally five days a week but restrict themselves to just one meal the other two days. There are many different approaches to intermittent fasting, but to see results, it’s important to be consistent. As you begin this new eating cycle, don’t be surprised if you feel extremely hungry or irritable. After the first few weeks pass, many people report feeling better than ever.

Intermittent fasting is unique from other forms of dieting because you don’t necessarily have to change what you eat to see results. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can go crazy on high-calorie junk food during eating periods. Experts recommend eating a variety of foods with essential nutrients that will help you continue to feel great even during periods of fasting.

As you become more conscious about the type of food you are eating, intermittent fasting can help protect different organs from disease. There is considerable evidence that sticking to this diet can prevent and even reverse some chronic diseases, including heart disease, type II diabetes, and age-related neurological disorders. Deota et. al found that such benefits may be associated with molecular changes that occur in various organs of the body.

The investigators began their experiment by separating their cohort of rats into two groups. One group was placed on a time-restricted feeding schedule, during which they only had access to food for 9 hours a day. The second group was able to eat freely throughout the day. All animals were fed the same hypercaloric diet. After seven weeks, 22 samples were collected from various organs, including the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and intestines, as well as different regions of the brain.

To their surprise, Deota et. al observed changes in almost 80% of the genes collected from animals in the restricted feeding group. Under a daytime pattern of 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of darkness, these genes exhibited greater expressional rhythmicity, which promoted metabolic flexibility. These changes appear to have enhanced the biological processes that support cell function while also suppressing inflammation and cell degeneration.

Molecular improvements were detected in almost all major metabolic organs, including the heart, liver, muscles and parts of the intestine. It is possible that by reducing inflammation, stabilizing RNA and proteins, and supporting the removal of damaged cells, time-restricted feeding also reversed several features of aging among animals in this group.

For many people, intermittent fasting can be an effective way to manage weight. It should be noted, however, that this type of diet may not be safe for everyone, especially those who have diabetes, are pregnant or nursing, or have a history of eating disorders. While recent findings are promising, the long-term effects of intermittent fasting in humans are not yet fully understood.

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