Could fasting for 16 hours twice a week be good for your health (and not just your waistline)?

‘Tis the season for dieting and purchasing gym memberships you may or may not use. There are plenty of tactics out there for how to drop excess weight fast, and generally speaking, most of them probably won’t be the quick fix resolutionaries are hoping for (yes, that’s a made up word). But one approach, namely […]

‘Tis the season for dieting and purchasing gym memberships you may or may not use.

There are plenty of tactics out there for how to drop excess weight fast, and generally speaking, most of them probably won’t be the quick fix resolutionaries are hoping for (yes, that’s a made up word).

But one approach, namely the 5:2 diet, could have benefits that go beyond slimming down. Made popular by books by British physician and television broadcaster Michael Mosley, this diet strategy involves avoiding food for 14 – 18 hours at a time. It’s not as bad as it sounds because this includes sleep time, so you can still eat during the front or back end of a fasting day, but only around 600 calories.

Clearly a lot of people might do this simply to lose weight, but scientists are exploring the idea that the mini-fast could also help improve memory, increase energy, boost immunity and control blood sugar.

A study by researchers at the University of Manchester found that the 5:2 diet helped overweight women lose more body fat and increase insulin resistance – as opposed to just limiting calorie intake overall like other diets.

Mark Mattson, a researcher at the National Institute of Aging, says when we go without food, the body uses up its stored glucose, the basic fuel for the body, and starts burning fat, according to NPR.

Mattson is interested in what happens to the brain — in terms of memory and learning — when the body starts to burn fat for fuel. And he’s been studying animals, mainly mice, for clues. During fasting, he says, fat can convert to compounds called ketones, “which have beneficial effects in making neurons more resistant to injury and disease.” He’s planning a study in people to evaluate what effect intermittent fasting may have on brain health.

In terms of adaptation for less stress and better immunity, intermittent fasting actually makes sense, considering that humans have lived on earth primarily without the three-meals-a-day luxury.

As a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explains, “The most common eating pattern in modern societies, three meals plus snacks every day, is abnormal from an evolutionary perspective.”

It is important to note that this 5:2 diet isn’t for everyone – obviously health is the focus here, and this wouldn’t be smart for some. It’s recommended that people discuss the plan with a physician before jumping in.

[Photo from Flickr user SANTI BAÑON]