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Fasting helps with dementia, hypertension, cholesterol, weight loss, say studies

A series of new studies are providing evidence that fasting can do more than whittle your waistline. In addition to boosting your weight loss, various types of fasts can reduce your blood pressure, protect you from dementia and even lower your risk of cancer, reported the Tampa Bay Times on Jan. 20.

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When Mark Mattson, head of the neuroscience laboratory at the National Institute on Aging, studied lab animals who went on intermittent fasts, he found that they had fewer strokes, better blood sugar levels and reduced risk of Alzheimer's and depression. But is it difficult for humans to reap the benefits from these fasts?

"In the studies we've done, people who do it for two or three weeks find it easier than counting calories," said Mattson. "You can make it through today if you know you can eat normally tomorrow."

Intermittent fasting also was subjected to research by Michael Mosley, author of "The Fast Diet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting." His approach, which he says has been shown in scientific trials to boost weight loss while reducing the risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, calls for limiting your calories to 500 a day on two non-consecutive days a week (men get 600 calories).

Adding to the evidence in favor of fasting is Krista Varady, a professor studying alternate-day fasting in humans at the University of Illinois in Chicago. However, she contends that to reap the rewards of extreme weight loss, Mosley's approach doesn't suffice. She's authored her own version of a fasting diet: "The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off."

Varady has found in her research that dieters who fast every other day also eat less on their "feast" days.

"They don't binge," she said. "They eat only slightly more than usual, but if you fast only two days a week your fast days could be separated by four days, so people may not experience the same appetite suppression."

In addition, Varady found that alternate day fasting burns fat while maintaining muscle mass.

"If you don't lose as much muscle mass you're more likely to keep the weight off," Varady said. "Alternate-day fasting will help you lose weight and keep the weight off, too."

Taking a different approach: David Zinczenko and Men’s Health editor-in-chief Peter Moore, who have designed an eight-hour diet based on the premise that you can reset your metabolism with mini fasting periods.

Their diet, "The 8-Hour Diet: Watch the Pounds Disappear Without Watching What You Eat," allows you to eat what you want for eight hours each day (for example, 11 am to 7 pm) while including certain power foods into the plan. However, outside of that eight-hour period, dieters are allowed to drink only water, black coffee and tea.