Intermittent fasting, a dietary approach involving alternating periods of eating and fasting, has been associated with reduced risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and aging. In a recent study by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, researchers explored the potential link between intermittent fasting and longevity.

The study, conducted on male mice, revealed that increasing the time between meals improved overall health and extended the lifespan of mice compared to those with more frequent eating patterns. Surprisingly, these benefits were observed irrespective of the mice’s diet composition or calorie intake. NIA Director Richard Hodes acknowledged the intriguing results in the animal model, emphasizing the need for further investigation.

Lead author Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D., suggested that prolonged daily fasting periods might enhance health and survival in humans. However, the optimal duration of daily fasting for human benefits remains a key question to answer. The study involved 292 mice, divided into two groups with varying diets and further subgroups with different access to food. The group that had access to food only once a day showed significant positive outcomes, living up to 40 percent longer than those with continuous access to food.

De Cabo explained that during fasting periods, the metabolism enters a standby mode, allowing the body to repair and eliminate waste. Continuous eating or frequent snacking throughout the day prevents the metabolism from readjusting or resting. Notably, no obvious negative side effects were observed in the fasting mice.

The research aims to expand findings to other mouse strains and lab animal species, considering both sexes, to understand the potential translation to humans. Previous studies, including one by the Longevity Institute in 2015, demonstrated positive effects on lifespan, fat reduction, cancer incidence, and immune system rejuvenation in mice subjected to fasting-mimicking diets.

Experts suggest that fasting for around 12 hours a day for at least five consecutive days may offer benefits. Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute, advises caution, recommending fasting on a “need-to-do-it basis.” While he acknowledges the health benefits associated with fasting, he suggests that individuals with a healthy lifestyle may only need one or two fasts per year, while others may benefit from fasting three times a year. It’s important to note that the discussion also mentioned fasting mimicking diets lasting five days, containing 800 to 1100 calories, as opposed to water fasts.

In summary, intermittent fasting shows promise in promoting longevity and overall health, with ongoing research exploring its potential applications in humans.