More than weight loss: Intermittent fasting may help protect older adults from injury

SAN DIEGO, California – An intermittent fasting diet could help protect the elderly from falls and other injuries by building their muscles, a study found.

Intermittent fasting, also known as time-restricted eating, could also be a cost-effective way to prevent type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, and liver cancer, says a team at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California. Longer fasts could also better protect against infectious diseases like COVID-19 and even save people from dying from sepsis.

Intermittent fasting is a diet that is growing in popularity. The diet keeps people eating between an eight hour window of time and could have several health benefits in addition to weight loss. The researchers fed mice from two different age groups on a high-fat and high-sugar diet – this corresponds to humans aged 20 and 42.

The team ran tests and compared the results of time-restricted eating (TRE) for fatty liver, glucose regulation, muscle mass, performance and endurance, and sepsis survival rates. The researchers also worked at night to tune the animals’ circadian clocks, using night vision goggles and special lighting.

Regardless of age, gender or weight loss, TRE provided strong protection against fatty liver. It is estimated that up to 20 percent of adults in the United States have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is low in fat in the liver. This can lead to severe liver damage, including cirrhosis of the liver, over time.

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Oral glucose tolerance tests in mice after 16 hours of fasting showed that intermittent fasting, with smaller increases in blood sugar and a faster return to normal blood sugar levels in both young and middle-aged men, was associated with a significant improvement in glucose tolerance in young and middle-aged women. Similarly, middle-aged mice on TRE were able to restore normal blood glucose levels more efficiently than control mice, which had food available at all times.

The researchers also found that intermittent fasting can protect both men and women from death from sepsis. This is a particular danger in intensive care units, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After administering a toxin that caused the mice to develop a sepsis-like state, the researchers monitored survival rates for 13 days and found that TRE protected both male and female mice from death from sepsis.

A muscle kick for seniors

Professor Satchidananda Panda says the intermittent fasting diet allowed even male mice to gain and add muscle mass and improve muscle performance. Study authors did not see the same effect in women. The team says this is an important finding for the elderly, who are at the highest risk of fall-related injuries.

“In many TRE clinical interventions, the primary outcome is weight loss, but we have found that TRE is good not only for metabolic disorders, but also for increasing resistance to infectious diseases and insulin resistance,” Panda said in a university press release.

“This was the first time we examined female mice and we weren’t sure what to expect,” adds Dr. Amandine Chaix, Assistant Professor at the University of Utah, added. “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.”

The results appear in the journal Cell Reports.

The South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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