Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular diets of the last 20 years for its promise to lose weight, increase energy, and lengthen life. However, is there actually scientific evidence to confirm these benefits? A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that it does.
The study was led by Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, in the United States, who, for more than 25 years, has researched the effects of diets on health and, in particular, has followed this regimen for two decades. According to him, based on the findings of previous studies, “intermittent fasting could be considered another healthy habit”.
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First of all, Mattson said that there are two ways to practice this diet: one that promotes eating all the meals of the day in a period of six or eight hours, and the 5: 2, in which for two days a week people limit themselves to eating only one medium-sized meal a day.
“According to Johns Hopkins University, several clinical studies involving animals and people revealed that spreading periods of fasting with periods of ingestion promotes cellular health, perhaps because it activates the so-called metabolic change, which is the ancestral biological adaptation to periods of food scarcity”.
This change occurs when cells deplete glucose stores and use fat as an energy source through slower metabolic processes. According to Mattson, the studies analyzed indicate that this change improves glycemic regulation, increases resistance to oxidative stress and decreases inflammation.
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In his review article, Mattson cautions that the results of four studies, both with animals and with people, revealed that intermittent fasting also lowers blood pressure, lipid levels, and heart rate at rest. Furthermore, he said that the findings suggest that fasting can modify risk factors associated with obesity and diabetes.
“Based on two studies conducted by the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust, in which 100 overweight women participated, it was concluded that, compared to the patients in the subgroup who followed the calorie-limited diet, those who followed the diet 5 : 2 not only lost the same amount of weight as the others, but also obtained better results in the insulin sensitivity test and in reducing abdominal fat”, said the team.
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Other recent studies showed that intermittent fasting also benefits the brain. In April, for example, the University of Toronto conducted a multicenter clinical trial involving 220 healthy, normal-weight adults. The participants followed a calorie-limited diet for two years, and after undergoing a series of cognitive tests, their memory was found to have improved.
“It is clear that more research is still needed to confirm the effect of intermittent fasting on memory and learning. If confirmed, this diet can be a medical tool to prevent neuronal degeneration and senile dementia” says Mattson.
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Mattson acknowledges that science does not yet fully understand the biological mechanisms of metabolic change and cautions that some people might not be able to adhere to the fasting regimen. However, he claims that with patience and under proper medical supervision, most could incorporate this diet into their lives.
*Based on information from Johns Hopkins University.