Fasting intermittently has real scientific benefits, according to a new study. It suggests the practice not only could help lose weight, but also increase endurance and heart health. Only one catch; the study focuses only on mice.
Whether the benefits translate to humans has still not been definitively established, but a number of celebrities and fitness advocates swear by diets based on the practice.
The study, conducted by the federal National Institutes of Health, focused on mice. Those that fasted regularly burned fat instead of sugar during exercise. Fats provide more energy and helped increase endurance.
The fasting mice had a higher glucose tolerance, suggesting their metabolisms were more flexible and able to tap into the body’s fat-burning process.
“Emerging evidence suggests that [intermittent fasting] might improve overall health and reduce risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease in humans,” said Mark Mattson, a senior investigator at the Laboratory of Neurosciences, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health.
Mattson said the process may trace back in history to the days when humans were hunter gatherers. The body and brain may have been programmed to work at their best during times of fasting, he told London’s Daily Mail.
“Fasting promotes weight loss because when people eat three meals each day, the energy goes into their liver and becomes glucose, which can take 10 to 12 hours to deplete. So if you normally eat three meals, you never burn fat,” he told the newspaper.
If the findings carry over to humans, the average person could boost their endurance by 20 percent to 30 percent or more, according to the study.
Less authoritative studies have reached similar conclusions and several diets, such as the “5:2” diet, “Warrior Diet” and “Ketogenic Diet” are based on intermittent fasting.
In the 5:2 diet, followers consume a normal amount of calories for five days and reduce calories by 75 percent on two non-consecutive days.
The warrior diet recommends eating just one large meal at night every day.
Mattson said NIH has no plans to follow up with research on humans. But other organizations are researching the subject.
The study was published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal, today (Feb. 27).