Whether intermittent fasting is called the 5:2 diet or the 16/8 method, celebrities swear that these eating regimens are a great way to lose weight.
Fasting is now trendy, but real science backs up claims that fasting two days a week or restricting eating to an eight-hour window each day leads to weight loss.
In a new study from Columbia University, researchers found intermittent fasting has even more health benefits that are not related to weight: it may also increase longevity.
They found how intermittent fasting works inside cells to slow the aging process. They also showed the benefits of fasting could be packaged in a pill.
Intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding in general limit food, but not overall caloric intake, to specific hours of the day. (In contrast, dietary restriction, which also has been shown to increase longevity, reduces caloric intake.)
Because intermittent fasting restricts the timing of eating, it’s been hypothesized that natural biological clocks play a role
In the study, the team put their flies on one of four different schedules: 24-hour unrestricted access to food, 12-hour daytime access to food, 24-hour fasting following by 24-hour unrestricted feeding, or what the researchers called intermittent time-restricted fasting or iTRF (20 hours of fasting followed by a recovery day of unlimited feeding).
Among the four eating schedules, only iTRF strongly extended the lifespan—18% for females and 13% for males.
And the timing of the 20-hour fast was critical: Lifespan increased only for flies that fasted at night and broke their fast around lunchtime.
For the researchers, the role of time was a big clue to how fasting is linked to longevity.
They found that a cell-cleaning process kicks in after fasting, but only when fasting occurs during the night.
The team found iTRF not only increased the flies’ lifespan, the eating regimen also improved the flies’ “healthspan,” increasing muscle and neuron function, reducing age-related protein aggregation, and delaying the onset of aging markers in muscles and intestinal tissues.
They say human cells use the same cell-cleaning processes, so the findings raise the possibility that behavioral changes or drugs that stimulate the cleaning process could provide people with similar health benefits, delaying age-related diseases and extending the lifespan.
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The study is published in Nature. One author of the study is Mimi Shirasu-Hiza, Ph.D.
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