Science Says That Intermittent Fasting Could Extend Your Life

This popular weight-loss trend may have just gotten trendier.

Intermittent fasting, the dieting tactic that focuses not so much on what you eat as when you eat, has become all the rage in the weight-loss world. When you engage in intermittent fasting, you're not restricted to any type of food, per se, so long as you either fast for 16 hours between meals on a daily basis, go a full 24 hours without eating once or twice a week, or only consume 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days-per-week (while eating normally for the rest of the time). The idea is that this way of consuming food is closer to the one espoused by our hunter-gatherer ancestors, for whom snacking throughout the day was not an option.

While it's been hailed as a powerful weight loss tool, a new study by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) that was published in the journal Cell Metabolism suggests that intermittent fasting can also extend your lifespan.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tried the intermittent fasting technique on half of 292 male mice, and found that those that adhered to the eating plan enjoyed longer and healthier lives than those who ate regularly. Surprisingly, the longevity benefits were not affected by what the mice ate or how many overall calories they consumed, indicating that the plan really works.

"This study showed that mice who ate one meal per day, and thus had the longest fasting period, seemed to have a longer lifespan and better outcomes for common age-related liver disease and metabolic disorders," Richard J. Hodes, the Director of the National Institute on Aging, said. "These intriguing results in an animal model show that the interplay of total caloric intake and the length of feeding and fasting periods deserves a closer look."

Rafael de Cabo, a Senior Investigator at the NIA and lead author on the study, agrees. "Increasing daily fasting times, without a reduction of calories and regardless of the type of diet consumed, resulted in overall improvements in health and survival in male mice," he said."Perhaps this extended daily fasting period enables repair and maintenance mechanisms that would be absent in a continuous exposure to food."

According to researchers, the next logical step in the process is to is to see how these findings translate to humans. As we know from the study on a new drug that could prevent weight-gain, mice are often used in lab testing because their genetic, biological, and behavioral characteristics closely resemble those of humans, especially when it comes to digestion. That doesn't mean every study automatically translates to humans, of course, but the implications are very promising.

Not to mention that the study corroborates with a 2017 Harvard study that found intermittent fasting helps delay aging by altering the activity of mitochondria—our bodies' tiny power plants in cells. The study was done on nematode worms, who are often used in longevity studies because they typically expire after only two weeks, but the results are equally promising.

And for more great healthy eating news, check out Science Says Eating Meat and Cheese Will Extend Your Life.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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