Life Style

Intermittent Fasting: Nourishing Your Heart, Enhancing Your Health, and Trimming Your Waistline

Intermittent fasting stands out among the myriad of trendy weight management approaches people explore.

Known alternatively as time-restricted eating, this regimen involves limiting one’s eating window to specific hours, typically eight hours within a 24-hour cycle. During the remaining 16 hours, individuals consume only clear liquids. Alternately, some opt for variations such as intermittent fasting for two or three days per week or per month.

Intermittent Fasting Nourishing Your Heart, Enhancing Your Health, and Trimming Your Waistline
Intermittent Fasting Nourishing Your Heart, Enhancing Your Health, and Trimming Your Waistline

But how effective is intermittent fasting, really?

Previous research has underscored the advantages of time-restricted eating. A comprehensive review conducted in December 2019, encompassing both human and animal studies, revealed numerous benefits associated with limiting calorie intake to a condensed timeframe. These advantages included enhanced longevity, reduced blood pressure, and weight loss. However, it’s worth noting that many of these studies were conducted on mice, and the human studies were relatively short-term, lasting only a few months.

Nevertheless, a yearlong study, published in April 2022, observed 139 Chinese adults spanning from overweight to significantly obese. This study found no discernible benefits of time-restricted eating over traditional calorie counting methods for weight loss or improvements in cardiovascular health.

Regarding recent research findings, a study presented this week has sparked skepticism and criticism among experts. The study suggests a significant association between eating within an eight-hour window or less and a 91% increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, as opposed to consuming meals over a 12- to 16-hour period.

The preliminary research abstract, presented on Monday at a conference of the American Heart Association in Chicago, has not undergone peer review or been published yet.

“We were surprised to find that people who followed an 8-hour, time-restricted eating schedule were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease,” said senior study author Victor Wenze Zhong, a professor and chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China.

“Our study’s findings encourage a more cautious, personalized approach to dietary recommendations, ensuring that they are aligned with an individual’s health status and the latest scientific evidence,” Zhong said in a statement.

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New findings are too preliminary

The recent study examined data from 20,000 individuals who provided information on their eating habits over a 24-hour period on two separate occasions during the initial year of enrollment in a long-term health analysis of US adults. Subsequently, researchers reviewed death records in the years following this initial assessment.

The analysis revealed a correlation between an eight-hour eating window and fatalities related to cardiovascular disease. However, the authors cautioned that the study did not establish causation between this eating pattern and the observed deaths.

Numerous experts have raised concerns regarding the validity of the new findings.

Kevin McConway, a professor emeritus of applied statistics at The Open University in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study, commented on the matter. He stated, “There’s insufficient information provided in the conference abstract to confidently support the study’s conclusions.” McConway emphasized the limitations of the study’s methodology, particularly its reliance on data collected over just two days and its attempt to extrapolate long-term implications regarding time-restricted eating patterns.

In essence, while the study suggests a potential association between the specified eating window and cardiovascular mortality, further research is necessary to establish a definitive causal relationship.

The abstract fails to mention whether individuals engaging in time-restricted eating also worked non-traditional hours, such as truck drivers, night shift workers, and healthcare professionals often do, pointed out Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, who was not involved in the study.

“This aspect is crucial as there’s evidence linking such work patterns to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Sanders stated.

Additionally, there’s no data provided in the abstract regarding tobacco and alcohol consumption, physical activity levels, or socioeconomic status among those practicing intermittent fasting. These factors are all known risk factors for heart disease, noted Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior teaching fellow at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, United Kingdom, who was not part of the study.

“We must exercise caution in drawing conclusions or creating alarming headlines based on such limited information,” Mellor emphasized. “Ultimately, it’s not just about when you eat but also what you eat and your overall lifestyle that significantly impacts health outcomes.”

Is intermittent fasting beneficial for your health?

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Like many inquiries in the realm of science, research into this matter can yield conflicting results. Often, the disparity arises from variations in study quality and methodologies, as well as discrepancies in the parameters being measured.

When it comes to fasting, experts note that studies exhibit a wide range of approaches. Some investigate fasting for extended periods, such as two or more days per week, while others explore time-restricted eating windows, such as fasting between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., or from noon to 8 p.m., among other variations.

“The data are not very compelling, in my opinion, for intermittent fasting. It’s a hard thing to study and publish with clean results,” nutrition researcher Christopher Gardner told CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

“And there’s no emphasis on quality, right?” said Gardner, a research professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in Palo Alto, California. “I fear that people say, ‘It’s the window, so I can have the pint of ice cream or I can have the cookies, or I can have whatever, because the most important thing is the window.”

How to lose weight

“What and how much you eat is more crucial than anything else,” experts emphasize.

Alice Lichtenstein, director and senior scientist at Tufts University’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, highlighted in a previous interview with CNN, “The bottom line is that weight loss, along with reductions in body fat, visceral fat, blood pressure, and glucose and lipid levels, hinges on reducing calorie intake, regardless of the distribution of food and beverages consumed throughout the day.” It’s worth noting that she was not involved in that particular study.

Moreover, a randomized clinical trial conducted in September 2020, considered the gold standard of research, examined 116 individuals. This study revealed no significant variance in weight loss outcomes between participants who practiced time-restricted eating from 8 p.m. to noon the following day and those who did not adhere to such restrictions.

Similarly, a January observational study involving 547 individuals yielded analogous findings. It concluded that there was no discernible disparity in weight loss among participants who followed restricted eating schedules and those who did not.

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