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Health Benefits from Intermittent Fasting

Fasting shown to reduce risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

Mice that fast periodically are healthier, metabolically speaking. To explore whether fasting can help people as well, Min Wei et al. studied participants who either consumed a fasting-mimicking diet for five days each month for three months or maintained their normal diet for three months and then switched to the fasting schedule. A post hoc analysis replicated these results and also showed that fasting decreased BMI, glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol, and C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation). These effects were generally larger in the subjects who were at greater risk of disease at the start of the study. A larger study is needed to replicate these results, but they raise the possibility that fasting may be a practical road to a healthy metabolic system.

Calorie restriction or changes in dietary composition can enhance healthy aging, but the inability of most subjects to adhere to chronic and extreme diets, as well as potentially adverse effects, limits their application. They randomized 100 generally healthy participants from the United States into two study arms and tested the effects of a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD)—low in calories, sugars, and protein but high in unsaturated fats—on markers/risk factors associated with aging and age-related diseases.

Participants were separated into two groups, a control group eating a normal diet and a group placed on the three-month cycle of a fasting-mimicking diet. The fasting-mimicking diet had participants eat food supplied by L-Nutra designed to imitate a water-only fast consisting of 750 to 1,100 calories a day during the five-day fasting period each month.

Then they compared subjects who followed the three months of an unrestricted diet to subjects who consumed the FMD for five consecutive days per month for three months. Three FMD cycles reduced body weight, trunk, and total body fat; lowered blood pressure; and decreased insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). No serious adverse effects were reported. After three months, control diet subjects were crossed over to the FMD program, resulting in a total of 71 subjects completing three FMD cycles. A post hoc analysis of subjects from both FMD arms showed that body mass index, blood pressure, fasting glucose, IGF-1, triglycerides, total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and C-reactive protein were more beneficially affected in participants at risk for disease than in subjects who were not at risk. Thus, cycles of a 5-day FMD are safe, feasible, and effective in reducing markers/risk factors for aging and age-related diseases. Larger studies in patients with diagnosed diseases or selected on the basis of risk factors are warranted to confirm the effect of the FMD on disease prevention and treatment.

Results showed a reduction of cardiovascular risk factors including blood pressure, signs of inflammation, fasting glucose and reduced levels of the metabolism hormone IGF-1 in 71 of the trial participants, who also lost weight and inches around their waist, reducing their risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other diseases. More specific results showed that participants on the fasting-mimicking diet lost an average of 6 pounds and 1 to 2 inches around their waist. Their systolic blood pressure dropped by 4.5 mmHg, their diastolic blood pressure dropped by 3.1 mmHg and their IGF-1 levels dropped between 21.7 ng/ml and 46.2 ng/ml.

Valter Longo, director of the USC Longevity Institute, professor of biological sciences for USC Davis and Dornsife and co-author of the study said in a press release, “This study provides evidence that people can experience significant health benefits through a periodic, fasting-mimicking diet that is designed to act on the aging process….Prior studies have indicated a range of health benefits in mice, but this is the first randomized clinical trial with enough participants to demonstrate that the diet is feasible, effective and safe for humans. Larger FDA studies are necessary to confirm its effects on disease prevention and treatment.”

“After the first group completed their three months on the fasting diet, participants were moved over to the control group to see if they also would experience similar results,” Longo said. “We saw similar outcomes, which provides further evidence that a fasting-mimicking diet has effects on many metabolic and disease markers. Our mouse studies using a similar fasting-mimicking diet indicate that these beneficial effects are caused by multi-system regeneration and rejuvenation in the body at the cellular and organ levels. Our participants retained those effects, even when they returned to their normal daily eating habits.”

Practice Pearls:

  • Results showed a reduction of cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure, signs of inflammation, fasting glucose and reduced levels of the metabolism hormone IGF-1.
  • Beneficial effects are caused by multi-system regeneration and rejuvenation in the body at the cellular and organ levels.
  • Larger FDA studies are necessary to confirm its effects on disease prevention and treatment.

 

Reference:

The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Feb 15, 2017, Vol. 9, Issue 377 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aai8700

For more information plus a video interview on intermittent fasting from Dr. Mark Mattson, see: http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/mattson-1-what-is-intermittent-fasting