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Impact of Intermittent Fasting on Health and Disease Processes

ABSTRACT

Humans in modern societies typically consume food at least three times daily, while laboratory animals are fed ad libitum. Overconsumption of food with such eating patterns often leads to metabolic morbidities (insulin resistance, excessive accumulation of visceral fat, etc.), particularly when associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Because animals, including humans, evolved in environments where food was relatively scarce, they developed numerous adaptations that enabled them to function at a high level, both physically and cognitively, when in a food-deprived/fasted state. Intermittent fasting (IF) encompasses eating patterns in which individuals go extended time periods (e.g., 16–48 hours) with little or no energy intake, with intervening periods of normal food intake, on a recurring basis. We use the term periodic fasting (PF) to refer to IF with periods of fasting or fasting mimicking diets lasting from 2 to as many as 21 or more days. In laboratory rats and mice IF and PF have profound beneficial effects on many different indices of health and, importantly, can counteract disease processes and improve functional outcome in experimental models of a wide range of age-related disorders including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease Parkinson’s disease and stroke. Studies of IF (e.g., 60% energy restriction on 2 days per week or every other day), PF (e.g., a 5 day diet providing 750–1100 kcal) and time-restricted feeding (TRF; limiting the daily period of food intake to 8 hours or less) in normal and overweight human subjects have demonstrated efficacy for weight loss and improvements in multiple health indicators including insulin resistance and reductions in risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The cellular and molecular mechanisms by which IF improves health and counteracts disease processes involve activation of adaptive cellular stress response signaling pathways that enhance mitochondrial health, DNA repair and autophagy. PF also promotes stem cell-based regeneration as well as long-lasting metabolic effects. Randomized controlled clinical trials of IF versus PF and isoenergetic continuous energy restriction in human subjects will be required to establish the efficacy of IF in improving general health, and preventing and managing major diseases of aging.