Fast Your Way to a Longer Lifespan?

Research suggests that calorie restriction (reducing food intake significantly every day) may actually promote healthy aging, but this approach is pretty tough for the average person to do. As a result, there is a lot of interest in alternative diets like Every-Other-Day Diet, the Fast Diet, and the 8-Hour Diet. These diets focus on the idea that occasional periods of eating little or no food may lead to weight loss. In addition, some supporters argue that these diets put your body’s cells into “repair mode,” which might prevent disease and counteract the effects of aging. This concept has been shown to work for mice and monkeys, but can it really work for people?

Finally, a Study in Humans!
A 2017 study looked at how fasting-mimicking diets, like the ones mentioned above, impact risk factors for aging, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease in humans. Scientists studied 71 volunteers for three months. For five days each month, the subjects ate a diet that was low in calories, sugars, and protein, but high in healthy unsaturated fats (so, only five days of “semi-fasting” per month). Amazingly, the researchers found that weight, blood pressure, and bad fats in the blood (like triglycerides and cholesterol) all decreased. This means that even just smaller stretches of periodic semi-fasting might actually be beneficial to your health.

So, Should You Stop Eating Now?
Not so fast. This study did prove that intermittent fasting is safe and may lead to some benefits, but this is just one study and it lasted only a few months. To truly determine if intermittent fasting leads to a longer healthier life, more (longer-duration) studies need to be performed. In the meantime, the American Heart Association (AHA) published an article that stated the following:

  • Breakfast skipping is linked with higher risk for weight gain, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Greater meal frequency (of small caloric value) is linked with lower risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Intermittent fasting is associated with lower blood pressure, but little long-term effect on cholesterol.

Overall, AHA found that a mindful eating pattern that paid attention to timing and frequency led to the healthiest lifestyle.

Tara Grieshaber

Tara Grieshaber is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.