Intermittent fasting accelerates weight loss and protects the brain, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Research by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) suggests that intermittent fasting is better than conventional dieting for fueling rapid weight loss, improving cognitive functioning, and maintaining lean muscle mass.
"Just as exercise makes muscles stronger, fasting makes the brain stronger," said Dr. Mark Mattson, chief of the NIA's neurosciences lab. Mattson said the chemicals produced by fasting also appear to boost people's moods.
Mattson and his team conducted studies on animals with Alzheimer-like conditions, and found that alternating between days of fasting and normal eating seemed to slow or even reverse brain impairment.
What's more, this pattern of intermittent fasting helped the animals maintain their lean muscle mass even as they aged — the exact opposite of what happens to both animals and people as they get older.
Similar experiments conducted on humans (alternating between days of normal eating and calorie restriction) showed the same effects. Dr. Mattson said fasting for short periods of time like 16 to 24 hours induces a state of stress in the body, which responds by releasing neurotrophic proteins that stimulate neurons and other cells.
A major advantage of intermittent fasting is that it's easier to maintain than a linear diet where you're constantly depriving yourself. In the alternate-day fasting model, people ate whatever they wanted on non-fasting days and then ate a low-calorie diet (about 500 calories a day) on fasting days.
Intermittent fasting has skyrocketed in popularity, thanks to the runaway success of the Fast Diet (or 5:2 diet), which calls for fasting (about 500 calories a day) for two days of the week and eating whatever you want the other five days.
Another successful intermittent fasting diet is the Every Other Day Diet, where you alternate days of "fasting" with regular eating. Thousands of people say they lost dramatic amounts of weight quickly on both of these IF regimes.
Not only do most people lose weight quickly on this plan, but they say it's easier to stick to their diet. "We think that once the people get adjusted to the diet, it is easy to adhere to," said Dr. Mattson. "If you know that tomorrow you can eat normally, you can make it through today."
Previous research has indicated that intermittent fasting melts body fat, boosts the release of anti-aging hormones, and improves insulin sensitivity. Actor Hugh Jackman followed a 16/8 intermittent fasting plan to achieve his rippling Wolverine body.