There’s a tsunami of chronic health problems that are shortening lives and reducing the quality of life and many of these health problems are related to poor metabolic health. Poor metabolic health is marked by insulin resistance, where your cells don’t respond to insulin as efficiently as they should. With insulin resistance, you have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Obesity and type 2 diabetes is on the rise, and health problems, like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), once uncommon, are skyrocketing at an alarming rate. The good news about lifestyle diseases such as these is you can often prevent or improve them with diet and lifestyle changes.
Time-Restricted Eating for Metabolic Health
One approach that shows promise for preventing and treating chronic health issues is intermittent fasting, going without food for periods of time. You might think that fasting sounds too extreme, but fasting doesn’t have to mean going days without eating.
There’s another way of fasting called time-restricted eating. With time-restricted eating, you eat during a window period each day and fast for the remainder of the day. The most popular is the 16:8 fasting structure; you eat during an 8-hour period and fast for 16 hours.
Not eating for 16 hours every day may sound like a challenge, but it’s easier than it sounds. For example, you can do it by eating an early dinner and not eating breakfast the next day. Then, you would enjoy an early lunch followed by an early dinner. After dinner, you close the kitchen down for the night. Time-restricted eating eliminates those late-night snacks, where people often eat junk food. The hardest part is the first few days as your body gets used to the change in routine, but after that, it’s much easier to maintain.
Time-Restricted Feeding for Better Blood Sugar Control and Heart Health
What benefits does time-restricted feeding offer? According to new research published in the Endocrine Society’s journal Endocrine Reviews, this approach is a promising approach to treating and managing health problems like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Unlike most dietary approaches, the emphasis is less on what you eat, but when you eat it. According to scientists, time-restricted eating is more in line with our internal biological clocks, the internal timepiece that sets our natural circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms influence a wide range of bodily functions, including when you eat, sleep, and become active. Circadian rhythms also control your body temperature and hormone production.
Everything is synchronized in the human body and occurs on a schedule. When you eat, sleep, and expose your eyes to light sets this internal clock. Scientists point out that eating at random times and every time you’re hungry disrupts the natural rhythm. In turn, this alters hormones that affect insulin sensitivity and your metabolic health.
What You Eat Matters Too Though
Although intermittent fasting doesn’t dictate what you eat, only when you eat it, choosing nutrient-dense foods will help you avoid nutritional deficiencies and maximize the benefits of time-restricted eating. So, don’t use 16:8 intermittent fasting as an excuse to eat fast food within the window period for eating. Food quality matters for your health too. Skip the ultra-processed fare and choose whole foods with fiber-rich carbohydrates, healthy fats, and quality sources of protein.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
One way intermittent fasting is beneficial is it improves blood sugar control and lowers insulin levels. One study found intermittent fasting could reduce blood sugar by up to 6% and lower insulin by 31%. These changes are beneficial for metabolic health and weight control. So, it’s not surprising that some people lose weight when they begin fasting.
Another study found that when subjects with metabolic syndrome restricted their meals and snacks to a 10-hour period daily, they experienced improvements in blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. These changes would be favorable for cardiovascular health. Metabolic syndrome is a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Another exciting possibility is that intermittent fasting may reduce whole-body inflammation, a contributor to almost every chronic health problem, including ones you wouldn’t expect, like cardiovascular disease. One study found that when men who strength trained ate all their food within an 8-hour time span each day, markers of inflammation in their bloodstream dropped.
There are also some studies showing that intermittent fasting may prolong life, but the studies have been carried out in animals. The verdict is still out on humans. But since intermittent fasting lowers insulin, that’s a good marker for possible longevity benefits.
Effects on Mitochondrial Function
As another perk, time-restricted eating may increase the efficiency of mitochondria, tiny structures within our cells that convert food into energy and are responsible for regulating cell death. When they don’t work properly, it contributes to aging and age-related health problems like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In fact, research shows dysfunctional mitochondria are a major contributor to diseases of old age and aging itself.
Research shows that intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating helps support healthy mitochondrial function, thereby improving metabolic health. Each time you eat, mitochondria work harder, and this creates oxidative stress that damages these tiny organelles. When you give your body breaks from eating, your mitochondria also get a much-needed break. Over time, they accumulate less damage .
Is Time-Restricting Eating or 16:8 Intermittent Fasting Safe?
For healthy people, intermittent fasting is safe. However, if you have certain medical conditions, like diabetes that requires treatment with medications or insulin, low blood sugar, or are pregnant, going for 16 hours without food may not be healthy. Also, you should avoid it if you take certain medications. Talk to your physician before starting an intermittent fasting program. Make sure that you’re also focusing on getting enough nutrition during the window period when you eat.
- EndocrineNews.org. “Intermittent Fasting Can Help Manage Metabolic Disease”
- “Intermittent fasting: Surprising update – Harvard Health.” 10 Mar. 2020, health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156.
- “16/8 Intermittent Fasting: A Beginner’s Guide.” 04 Sept. 2018, healthline.com/nutrition/16-8-intermittent-fasting.
- WeightWatchers.com. “What is 16/8 fasting–and how does it work?”
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- “Intermittent Fasting Boosts Endurance in Mouse Marathoners.” https://irp.nih.gov/blog/post/2018/03/intermittent-fasting-boosts-endurance-in-mouse-marathoners.
- Lettieri-Barbato D, Cannata SM, Casagrande V, Ciriolo MR, Aquilano K. Time-controlled fasting prevents aging-like mitochondrial changes induced by persistent dietary fat overload in skeletal muscle. PLoS One. 2018 May 9;13(5):e0195912. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0195912. PMID: 29742122; PMCID: PMC5942780.
- Mehrabani S, Bagherniya M, Askari G, Read MI, Sahebkar A. The effect of fasting or calorie restriction on mitophagy induction: a literature review. Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle. 2020;11(6):1447-1458. doi:10.1002/jcsm.12611.