Chances are you’ve heard of a lot of the latest diet crazes, one of which is intermittent fasting. While it’s generally not a good idea to just do what everyone else seems to be doing, especially if you have a condition like diabetes, new research is showing that this latest fad diet may actually be good for people with type 2 diabetes or those who are at risk of diabetes or heart disease.
Researchers at the Salk Institute and the UC San Diego School of Medicine asked 19 participants with metabolic syndrome to eat only within a 10-hour window each day in a diet known as intermittent fasting and to record what they ate in an app. Participants were not asked to change what they ate, only when they ate it. This method, when combined with traditional diabetes medications, resulted in weight loss, reduced abdominal fat, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and more stable blood sugar and insulin levels.
Most participants still ate three meals per day but pushed those meals closer together to fit within the 10-hour timeframe. While they were not asked to eat less food, some still did report eating less, likely due to the shorter timeframe causing a lack of hunger. On top of the other health improvements, participants also reported sleeping better on this schedule.
“We have found that combining time-restricted eating with medications can give metabolic syndrome patients the ability to better manage their disease,” says Satchidananda Panda, co-corresponding author and professor in Salk’s Regulatory Biology Laboratory. “Unlike counting calories, time-restricted eating is a simple dietary intervention to incorporate, and we found that participants were able to keep the eating schedule.”
Erratic eating patterns mess with our bodies’ biological clocks and can cause an increase in abdominal fat, abnormal cholesterol or triglycerides, and high blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as increased risk for metabolic diseases. Previous research by the Salk team has found that time-restricted eating, on the other hand, supports an individual’s circadian rhythm and helps maximize the health benefits of food intake.
“Eating and drinking everything (except water) within a consistent 10-hour window allows your body to rest and restore for 14 hours at night. Your body can also anticipate when you will eat so it can prepare to optimize metabolism,” says Emily Manoogian, the paper’s co-first author and a postdoctoral fellow in the Panda lab. “We wanted to know if controlling the timing of food intake to support circadian rhythms would improve the health of individuals that were already being treated for cardiometabolic diseases.”
The method appears to be a new treatment option for people with metabolic disorders and a way to prevent such diseases in people at risk for them. While it should not be used in place of healthy eating and exercise, some people claim it is an easier lifestyle change to maintain than other diets and exercise plans, making it a perfect way to get started losing weight and reducing your risk of diabetes and heart disease, especially if nothing else has worked for you.
“Metabolism is closely linked with circadian rhythms, and knowing this, we were able to develop an intervention to help patients with metabolic syndrome without decreasing calories or increasing physical exercise,” says Pam Taub, co-corresponding author and associate professor of medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and a cardiologist at UC San Diego Health. “If we can optimize circadian rhythms then we might be able to optimize the metabolic system.”
There are a few different types of intermittent fasting, however, and of course, not all fasting is (probably) created equal. Some people fast all day on alternating days and eat normally in the days in between. Other intermittent fasting diets call for users to eat within a restricted period of time each day. More research on the various types of intermittent fasting is needed, and different people may respond differently to different fasting approaches.
Always talk to your doctor before starting a diet plan, especially one as restrictive as intermittent fasting can be. Certain diets can be dangerous for some people, so you should seek supervision from a physician before starting and let your doctor know if you see any changes in your health after starting. Even seemingly positive changes like weight loss can be a bad thing if they happen too quickly or if you do not have much extra weight to lose.
Panda says the intermittent fasting system has the potential to save the healthcare industry billions of dollars, as well as save millions of people from developing preventable disorders. The team will continue their research in a larger study to further corroborate their results.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?