Occasional fasting — a controversial dietary practice with both detractors and supporters among doctors — has been found to be a beneficial way for individuals who struggle with obesity and type 2 diabetes to manage their weight and their health.
A scientific review published in the British Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease found that many studies show intermittent fasting, when done alongside more traditional weight-loss strategies involving healthy diets and increased exercise, can reduce the risks of diabetes and heart disease and may even be an effective preventive strategy.
The conclusions are based on an analysis by a team of scientists, led by James Brown from Aston University, of various approaches to intermittent fasting reported in past scientific studies. They searched specifically for advantages and limitations in treating obesity and type 2 diabetes using fasting diets, where individuals don’t eat — or limit what they eat — on a given number of consecutive or alternate days.
The results show that intermittent fasting has been shown in trials to be at least as effective as counting calories every day to lose weight. Evidence from clinical trials also shows that fasting can limit inflammation, improve levels of sugars and fats in circulation, and reduce blood pressure.
Fasting prompts our bodies change how they select which fuel to burn, improving metabolism and reducing oxidative stress, the researchers concluded.
"Intermittent fasting might achieve much of the benefit seen with bariatric surgery, but without the costs, restriction on numbers and risks associated with surgery," said Brown.
"Whether intermittent fasting can be used as a tool to prevent diabetes in those individuals at high risk or to prevent progression in those recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes remains a tantalizing notion and we are currently in preparation for clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of this form of lifestyle intervention in various patient groups."
Scientists have known since the 1940s that fasting can boost weight loss and research on lab animals has shown it may be able to prevent diabetes. Recent clinical studies have also confirmed that restricting calorie intake can reverse type 2 diabetes in some people.
They have also shown fasting can produce cardiovascular benefits that are comparable to exercising, such as lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.
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