Intermittent fasting offers health benefits, study says — but it’s not for everybody
The diet works by changing a person’s metabolism similarly to how humans adapt to times of food scarcity.
Trading holiday feastsforintermittent fastingcould yield health benefitsfrom lower cholesterol toreduced stress, according to a new study.
Thedieting methodrequires patience, researchers wrotein a review published Thursday intheNew England Journal of Medicine, but doctors can help patients reachthe scientifically-proven benefits or warn at-risk groups to avoid it.
While intermittent fasting dietsvary, the practicesof alternatingbetween certain periods of eating and not eating fall into two categories, said co-authorMark Mattson, a neuroscienceprofessor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. One restricts eating to six to eight hours per day andanother limits people toone moderate-sized meal two days each week.
The eating patternscanincreaseresistance to stress andimprove blood sugar regulation, whiledecreasingblood pressure, blood lipid levels and resting heart rates, Mattson wrote. Multiple studies on humans and animals have reported those results, he said, bringing legitimacy to the practice.
“We are at a transition point where we could soon consider adding information about intermittent fasting to medical school curricula alongside standard advice about healthy diets and exercise,” Mattson said in a release statement.
Even so, committing to intermittent fasting for the long periods of time is often difficult, saidDr. Guy L. Mintz, director of cardiovascular health and lipidology atSandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospitalin New York. Some studies show patients eatingmore than recommended on fasting days and less on feast days, said Mintz, who did not participate in the review.
Mintz also urgedcertain groups to avoid intermittent fasting, includingpatients who are not overweight. Most clinical studies have worked with overweight young and middle-aged adults, the study said, so more trials on other ages arerequired.
”Intermittent fasting may not be a good diet fordiabetic patients on medicationsand/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 diet works, Mattson wrote, bychanging a person’s metabolismsimilarly to how humansadapt to times of food scarcity. The body uses up its sugar stores, which metabolize quickly,and slowlyconverts fats into energy.
Scientists have also observed theseeating patterns and metabolismchangesin natural animal behavior, saidDr. Gerald Bernstein, program coordinator at theFriedman Diabetes Instituteof Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“Certain birds will change their beak depending on rainfall, saidBernstein, who did not participate in the study. “The beak of these birds will change to meet the height of the plant growth; less rain, big beak;more rain, small beak.”
The changes over time may alter the DNA of a bird, which could explainthe benefits of intermittent fasting, said Bernstein.
Other preliminary trials have suggested intermittent fasting for animalscan delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and suppress the growth of cancerous tumors, but the study said further research is required. In the meantime, the authors concluded it is unlikely that intermittent fasting will be practiced widely in the United States.
“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 study said. “The abundance of food and extensive marketing in developed nations are also major hurdles to be overcome.”
Read more at usatoday.com.