Intermittent fasting offers health benefits on top of weight loss, but not for everyone

Almost every week there is a new story about intermittent fasting – known as time-limited eating (TRE) – and whether it’s a viable or even a superior strategy for losing weight.

TRE is when your eating is restricted to a strict window of time, typically eight hours a day. Aside from weight gain, there is growing evidence that TRE protects the liver.

Researchers at the University of Sydney said last year they were studying “how intermittent fasting works on the liver to prevent disease”.

A new in-depth study by the Salk Institute caused quite a stir and confirmed that TRE has several health benefits in addition to weight loss.

The catch? The benefits are not evenly distributed. Some are age and gender dependent.

Most embarrassing realization? TRE protects against weight gain in young and old men, but not in women.

Could the researchers be wrong? This was a study in mice. We’ll come back to that.

To all women who have committed to intermittent fasting, the researchers found that you haven’t wasted your time – but maybe you should stick with TRE because of the other benefits

So what’s the good news for everyone?

The Salk study found that TRE could be “a valuable intervention” in type 2 diabetes, fatty liver and liver cancer.

There was good news for older men. TRE increases muscle performance and motor coordination – reducing the risk of losing your balance and falling over.

Perhaps the most surprising finding was that TRE can increase resistance to infectious diseases.

In older people, TRE improves their chances of surviving sepsis, or “blood poisoning”. Sepsis must be diagnosed quickly before it leads to organ failure and death.

All of these findings require further investigation. After all, the researchers have opened up some impressive lines of investigation.

Cross your fingers that the research will hold

That this was a mouse study will make some readers moan. There is a lot of opposition around the world to the idea that what happens in laboratory-modified mice can be carried over to the human population.

Sometimes it can’t. It depends on the type of research. But there is good evidence that experiments with mice hold up in metabolism and obesity research.

However, there is a convention that young male mice models are used in research. According to a prepared statement, the Salk researchers have abandoned this convention.

In their experiment, they fed male and female mice of two age groups (corresponding to 20 and 42 year olds) on a high-fat and high-sugar diet, with food intake limited to nine hours per day.

The team conducted tests to determine how age and gender affect TRE results on a variety of health parameters: fatty liver, glucose regulation, muscle mass, performance and endurance, and survival from sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection.

They also took the rare step of adapting their laboratory conditions to the animals’ circadian clocks. Mice sleep during the day and get up at night – which meant that the researchers often worked using night vision devices and special lighting.

When analyzing the tissues of the mouse model, the researchers found that “TRE provides strong protection against fatty liver regardless of age, gender or weight loss profile”.

“This was the first time we’d studied female mice and we weren’t sure what to expect,” said lead author Amandine Chaix, assistant professor at the University of Utah.

“We were surprised that the females who received TRE were not protected from weight gain, but still showed metabolic benefits, including less fatty liver and better controlled blood sugar.”

That TRE enabled older male mice to maintain and add muscle mass and improve muscle performance stunned the researchers somewhat.

“Does muscle mass increase because TRE helps muscles repair and regenerate better? What influence does TRE have on muscle metabolism and regeneration? ”Said Satchidananda Panda, the corresponding author of the study.

“These are very exciting questions for us and we look forward to examining them in more detail.”

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