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What Does Science Say: Intermittent Fasting

A Quick Look into Intermittent Fasting

With new weight loss approaches constantly being showcased, it can get a bit overwhelming to identify what method might be worth trying, and what might be a fad diet, as not all diets show to be beneficial over time.

Today we will be exploring one approach that has been a growing health trend: intermittent fasting.Fasting is an ancient practice that has existed in different formats among different populations around the world [1,2]. Multiple variations of intermittent fasting exist, consisting of different regimens that include sequences of fasting and unrestricted eating periods.

Intermittent fasting is more about setting an eating pattern that designates when you eat, rather than what you eat.  Three of the most common routines include modified fasting, alternate-day fasting (ADF), and time-restricted feeding (TRF) [1].

Let’s take a look at what each of these routines entail!

Studies on subjects that followed different variations of intermittent fasting (i.e. alternate day, 2-day, 4-day) have resulted in positive changes in eating behaviors and mood among individuals with overweight and obesity.

One study found reductions in depression and an improvement in body image perception following 8 weeks of an alternate-day fasting schedule [4].

Other studies with subjects following a 2-day fasting schedule and continuous energy/calorie restriction reported similar reductions in scores for tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion, and a decline in mood disturbance [5,6].

When fasting, your cells begin cellular repair processes, which essentially include cleaning out and recycling the dysfunctional components of cells [3,7].

Supporting data in animal research studies suggests that intermittent fasting may prolong the life span [8,9]. 

Additional studies have also shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, benefits for gut health, reduction in oxidative stress, improvements in cognition, and delays in aging [3].

Moreover, additional studies indicate that fasting protects against many late-onset illnesses such as insulin resistance [10,11, 12], neuro-degeneration and cancer, as well as improving chemotherapy outcomes in cancer treatment [10,11].

Further evidence-based support is needed to understand long-term effects of intermittent fasting. It has become a successful weight management tool for many, along with offering other health benefits.

Nonetheless, intermittent fasting is only one of many health strategies that can help you attain your weight goal, and it may not be an ideal approach for everyone. After all, the best diet for you is the one that you can manage to stick to long-term, and the focus on eating healthy foods and staying active still remains!


1. Patterson RE, Sears DD. Metabolic effects of intermittent fasting. Annu Rev Nutr. 2017;37(1):371‐393. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-071816-064634

2. Longo VD, Mattson MP. Fasting: molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell Metab. 2014;19(2):181‐192. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2013.12.008

3. Stockman MC, Thomas D, Burke J, Apovian CM. Intermittent fasting: is the wait worth the weight?. Curr Obes Rep. 2018;7(2):172‐185. doi:10.1007/s13679-018-0308-9

4. Hoddy KK, Kroeger CM, Trepanowski JF, Barnosky AR, Bhutani S, Varady KA. Safety of alternate day fasting and effect on disordered eating behaviors. Nutr J. 2015;14:44. doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0029-9

5. Harvie MN, Pegington M, Mattson MP, et al. The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2011;35(5):714‐727. doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.171

6. Harvie M, Wright C, Pegington M, et al. The effect of intermittent energy and carbohydrate restriction v. daily energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers in overweight women. Br J Nutr. 2013;110(8):1534‐1547. doi:10.1017/S0007114513000792

7. Alirezaei M, Kemball CC, Flynn CT, Wood MR, Whitton JL, Kiosses WB. Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy. 2010;6(6):702‐710. doi:10.4161/auto.6.6.12376

8. Anson RM, Guo Z, de Cabo R, et al. Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003;100(10):6216‐6220. doi:10.1073/pnas.1035720100

9. Goodrick CL, Ingram DK, Reynolds MA, Freeman JR, Cider N. Effects of intermittent feeding upon body weight and lifespan in inbred mice: interaction of genotype and age. Mech Ageing Dev. 1990;55(1):69‐87. doi:10.1016/0047-6374(90)90107-q

10. Lee C, Longo VD. Fasting vs dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: from model organisms to patients. Oncogene. 2011;30(30):3305‐3316. doi:10.1038/onc.2011.91

11. Lee C, Raffaghello L, Brandhorst S, et al. Fasting cycles retard growth of tumors and sensitize a range of cancer cell types to chemotherapy. Sci Transl Med. 2012;4(124):124ra27. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3003293

12. Barnosky AR, Hoddy KK, Unterman TG, Varady KA. Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Transl Res. 2014;164(4):302‐311. doi:10.1016/j.trsl.2014.05.013

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