Intermittent fasting has become a popular way to accelerate weight loss and melt body fat, but scientists say alternating between fasting and normal eating also confers powerful anti-aging benefits.
Research shows that intermittent fasting provides neuroprotective properties that ward off brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's, said Dr. Mark Mattson of the National Institute on Aging.
"Just as exercise makes muscles stronger, fasting makes the brain stronger," Mattson told the Wall Street Journal. “It makes me more productive." Dr. Mattson said the chemicals produced by fasting also have mood-boosting properties.
Mattson and his team conducted studies on animals with Alzheimer-like conditions, and found that alternating between days of normal eating and calorie restriction slowed or even reversed brain impairment.
Similar experiments conducted on humans showed the same results. Dr. Mattson said fasting for short periods of time (16 to 24 hours) induces a state of stress in the body, which responds by releasing neurotrophic proteins that stimulate neurons and other cells.
While one might think periods of hunger would make muscles waste away, intermittent fasting actually appears to help people maintain lean muscle mass even as they get older — the opposite of what happens as we age. What's more, studies show intermittent fasting burns more body fat than conventional dieting.
Intermittent Fasting Boosts Human Growth Hormone
Research indicates that periodic fasting dramatically increases human growth hormone. According to the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, men who fasted for 24 hours experienced a 2,000% spike in HGH, while women saw a 1,300% increase. Studies show fasting stabilizes blood sugar and improves cholesterol.
Intermittent fasting has soared in popularity, thanks to the blockbuster success of the Fast Diet (or 5:2 diet), which calls for fasting (500 calories a day) for two days of the week and eating whatever you want the other five days.
Another popular intermittent fasting diet is the "Every Other Day Diet," where you alternate every other day between fasting and regular eating. Thousands of people claim they rapidly shed dramatic amounts of weight on both these IF regimes.
While most people may think dieters will overeat on their "feasting" days, this rarely happens, said Dr. Krista Varady, author of the Every Other Day Diet.
"Something keeps people from really binging on that feed day,” Varady told the Atlantic. “Something changes in the body on the fasting days. We're not sure what. It may be hormone changes, or that the stomach shrinks."
"We're actually seeing that the people in the every-other-day group are losing more weight — about five to seven pounds more — because they're just able to stick to it longer. And they like it more. They like that they're always able to look forward to the next day when they can eat whatever they want."