Advertisement
  1. Health

Intermittent fasting seems to be a good thing, new report suggests

Steve Anton, Ph.D., the academic paperâ\u0080\u009A\u0080\u0099s lead author and a faculty member with the UF Institute on Aging. (UF Health/Jesse S. Jones)
Published May 21, 2018

Going long hours without eating isn't good for us, we are often told. Our bodies need fuel regularly. Otherwise, we may become lethargic, tired and hungry. Our thinking can become mushy, our ability to work, and even play, hampered.

Not so fast.

A new report by University of Florida researchers suggests that a certain style of fasting can actually be good for us and, illness and disease aside, can be tried at any age. In fact, the study suggests, a certain rhythm of fasting and feasting is something humans have been capable of for eons.

Of course, any serious shift in diet should be cleared with the family physician, cautions Steve Anton, Ph.D., the academic paper's lead author and a faculty member with the UF Institute on Aging.

The study, published in the journal Obesity, reviewed a number of findings that looked at diets, fasting and the results in subjects of all age groups. What these studies showed was that fasting, especially the increasingly popular intermittent fasting, has high potential for weight loss at any age.

The challenge with long-term fasting is that the body tends to consume not only fat, but lean muscle tissue, Anton, 42, explained. "Most people 50 and older want to lose weight but not the muscle."

A typical intermittent fasting pattern consists of 16 hours of not eating and eight hours for eating in a 24-hour day, Anton said. But there can be lots of flexibility in that pattern.

"With most diets, weight loss is not (just) body fat," he said, "and we want to maintain as much muscle tissue as possible."

So how does intermittent fasting work?

"The body essentially flips a metabolic switch" during fasting, Anton said. This means that the body moves from burning glucose, or sugar, for energy to burning fatty acids and their by-products, called ketones. And during fasting, the body converts fatty acids, which are absorbed by the blood, Anton said.

"This switch can happen after a certain period of fasting," Anton said. Typically, after eight to 12 hours of fasting, the level of ketones in the blood significantly increases, he said.

The intermittent fasting pattern can be individualized. For example, a person might eat his last meal at 8 p.m., sleep eight or more hours and resume eating at noon the next day. Water, black coffee and black tea are allowed during the fast. When the dieter returns to food, there's no restriction, other than good, balanced meals.

Intermittent fasting can be done daily, or as a lifestyle, or it can be done two or three times a week.

In studies of nonhuman subjects, the intermittent fasting diet and that metabolic switch point to the possibility that such a diet pattern may lengthen life spans, improve cognitive and physical performance, lower inflammation and lead to better cardiovascular health, Anton said in the paper.

Author Barbara Grufferman devotes an entire chapter to intermittent fasting in her new book, Love Your Age: The Small-Step Solution to a Better, Longer, Happier Life (2018, National Geographic). She underscores that intermittent fasting is safe for anyone without a serious illness but does not recommend it for people under 18 or people with eating disorders.

"What we eat, how we eat and how much we eat is even more critical" as we get older, she said. "Fasting as a way to improve health has been around for decades."

Grufferman, 61, discovered intermittent fasting about five years ago, and her approach was to work with health professionals to monitor her blood as a way of measuring the effects. "When you are intermittent fasting, your immune system gets a big boost," she discovered. "The white blood cells reproduce rapidly after a fast and that strengthens the entire immune system," she said.

There are other benefits, Grufferman said. "This is a way to lose weight and keep it off if you periodically do intermittent fasting," she said.

But too much of a good thing may be harmful, Grufferman added. "I'm not recommending no food at all. Chronic calorie reduction is not recommended."

The author said she has lost weight and maintained that reduction. "When something works, I feel like more people need to know about it," she said.

"We're living in a country that is overweight with a lot of disease that can be avoided."

For the University of Florida's Anton, more research is needed to determine just how people 50 and older can benefit from intermittent fasting and what patterns are most beneficial.

"Intermittent fasting" is a broad term, Anton said. It can mean different things to different people. For Anton's father, who is in his 70s, it's a daily practice. "He has told me he has more energy when he does it."

Another option would be to practice intermittent fasting on alternate days, eating as much as you want on one day and little or no calories the next, Anton said. "Some people, including myself, have a little cream with their coffee," he confessed. "Don't try to be so perfect that you give up. Perfection is the enemy of success."

The key to a successful experience with intermittent fasting, Anton said, is common sense. "You don't have to (fast) 16 hours the first time. You don't try to run a marathon the first time you exercise.

"It's highly recommended you build up the time so your body gets used to it. Once you've adapted, it becomes part of your lifestyle."

Contact Fred W. Wright Jr. at travelword@aol.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Dr. Paul McRae was the first black chief of staff at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Dr. McRae died on September 13, 2019. He was photographed here in the Tampa Bay Times photo studio for the 2008 Dr. Carter G Woodson Museum's "Legends Honorees" gala. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Times
    ‘His extraordinary example paved the way for so many others.’
  2. Michael Jenkins spent seven days at North Tampa Behavioral Health last July. Since then, he says his three children have been afraid he’ll leave and not come home. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times
    The patients have no choice, and the hospital is making millions.
  3. Samantha Perez takes a call for someone in need of counseling at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay earlier this year. The center handles calls dealing with suicide, sexual assault, homelessness and other traumatic situations. They also do outreach and counseling, and operate Transcare, an ambulance service. JONES, OCTAVIO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Florida’s mental health care system saves lives.
  4. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County identified a positive case of hepatitis A in a food service worker at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City on Oct. 22, 2018. [JOSH FIALLO | Times] JOSH FIALLO | TIMES  |  JOSH FIALLO | Times
    Slightly more than 200,000 people have been vaccinated this year — a huge jump from the 49,324 people vaccinated in all of 2018.
  5. FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2014, file photo, a patron exhales vapor from an e-cigarette at a store in New York. Under the Trump administration, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb kicked off his tenure in 2017 with the goal of making cigarettes less addictive by drastically cutting nicotine levels. He also rebooted the agency’s effort to ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes. But those efforts have been largely eclipsed by the need to respond to an unexpected explosion in e-cigarette use by teens. AP
    Hundreds of people nationwide have come down with lung illness related to vaping.
  6. This May 2018, photo provided by Joseph Jenkins shows his son, Jay, in the emergency room of the Lexington Medical Center in Lexington, S.C. Jay Jenkins suffered acute respiratory failure and drifted into a coma, according to his medical records, after he says he vaped a product labeled as a smokable form of the cannabis extract CBD. Lab testing commissioned as part of an Associated Press investigation into CBD vapes showed the cartridge that Jenkins says he puffed contained a synthetic marijuana compound blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe. JOSEPH JENKINS  |  AP
    The vapor that Jenkins inhaled didn’t relax him. After two puffs, he ended up in a coma.
  7. H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute is the centerpiece of Project Arthur, an 800-acre corporate park that could include up 24 million square feet of office and industrial space on nearly 7,000 acres of what is now ranch land, but targeted for development in central Pasco. Times
    The H. Lee Moffitt facility is the centerpiece of an economic development effort in a proposed 800-acre corporate park.
  8. Taylor Bland-Ball, 22, posted this photo and open letter to Judge Thomas Palermo to her Instagram account on September 10, the day after she lost custody of her 4-year-old son Noah McAdams. The boy's parents wanted to treat his leukemia with natural health care remedies instead of chemotherapy. [Instagram] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Instagram
    The couple refused chemotherapy for their son, instead seeking alternative treatments including dietary plans, alkaline water and THC and CBD oil treatments
  9. Sharon Hayes, the new chief executive officer at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, says she will draw on her roots in nursing as she engineers a turnaround for the hospital. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    The city’s largest hospital has suffered setbacks under a corporate owner, but a new leader says it’s time for an infusion of “love and attention.”
  10. An architect's rendering shows part of a planned research center and hospital on N McKinley Drive in Tampa for the Moffitt Cancer Center. During the 2020 legislative session in Tallahassee, the center will seek an increased share of Florida's cigarette tax to finance the McKinley Drive project and other improvements. Moffitt officials said Thursday that the increase initially would finance $205 million, to be paired with $332 million they have already allocated for the project. Moffitt Cancer Center
    Florida lawmakers are the key to unlocking the money, which would pay for more hospital beds and research space.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement