Major alternate-day fasting study finds many health benefits

Intermittent fasting may be popular right now, but a new study suggests that alternate-day fasting may be a better protocol for some people. Rather than restricting calories for a block of time every day, alternate-day fasting allows dieters to eat normally one day but requires them to completely skip food the next day. Doing this, a study suggests, may offer health and weight loss benefits.

The research, which was recently published in the journal Cell Metabolism, involved 60 participants and lasted four weeks, making this the largest study of its kind. Participants were split into two groups, one ordered to stick to a 36-hour water fasting period followed by a 12-hour period of unlimited eating, the other given the freedom to eat whatever and whenever they wanted.

The scientists behind the study looked at the various effects of following an alternate-day fasting protocol and noted multiple potential health benefits. The team verified that participants strictly adhered to the no-food fasting periods by using continuous blood glucose monitoring. On the majority of days, according to the study, these participants lived their normal daily lives while fasting.

Alternate-day fasting was found to result in weight loss, according to the study, because the participants didn't entirely make up for the calorie loss during their 12-hour periods of eating. Over the course of those four weeks, the participants lost an average of 7.7lbs. Of note, the scientists found that participants had a reduction in belly fat.

In addition to weight loss, participants who fasted were also found to have lowered cholesterol levels, lower levels of the thyroid hormone triiodothyronine, which is associated with longer lifespan, lower levels of a biomarker linked to inflammation and age-related diseases, plus upregulation of ketone bodies, something linked to health improvements and, in this case, present even on the non-fasting days.

There are some potential risks associated with fasting and anyone considering the dieting protocol should talk to their doctors first. Karl-Franzens University of Graz professor of the Institute of Molecular Biosciences Frank Madeo explained:

We feel that it is a good regime for some months for obese people to cut weight, or it might even be a useful clinical intervention in diseases driven by inflammation. However, further research is needed before it can be applied in daily practice. Additionally, we advise people not to fast if they have a viral infection, because the immune system probably requires immediate energy to fight viruses. Hence, it is important to consult a doctor before any harsh dietary regime is undertaken.