Why fasting has more health benefits than just weight loss
There’s so much information available about health and wellness on social media and the internet and it can be hard to decide what’s true and what actually works. One recent article caught mine and many other doctors’ attention’s this week. It was a recent article published by The New York Times, which takes a study published in the The New England Journal of Medicine and says that scientists found no benefit to time-restricted eating, also known as fasting, in patients during a year-long study. The study suggests that those who confined meals to less, and specific times, lost no more weight than those who ate any time of day. So, what does this mean?
Well firstly, the study was led by researchers at Southern Medical University, China and had a very small sample size. Also, it was done with only one ethnicity and one nationality—Chinese. So, what’s the problem with this?
The majority of Chinese people consume their food mid-day, compared to the Western world, where people tend to eat their largest meal at night. And although the conclusion of the study was that there was no difference in weight loss between the two groups, there are more benefits to time-restricted eating than just weight loss. Weight loss is not the sole benefit of any form of time-restricted eating, but rather a positive side effect for some.
The results of the study
The difference in weight loss between the two groups was almost significant, both groups lost weight but the group that practiced time-restricted eating was actually approaching statistical significance at .11. So, in simpler terms, there was a difference between the two groups but it wasn't big enough to reach statistical significance.
Benefits of time-restricted eating
In the last few years, time restricted eating has been marketed as a magic solution to all weight loss problems, and now everyone wants it to be for weight loss. But there are many benefits that can come from using circadian rhythms to time your food intake. Any form of fasting, be it intermittent fasting, which starts later in the day, or circadian fasting, which is when you eat when the sun goes up and stop when it goes down, has scientifically-backed health benefits. These include:
- Helps to regulate body’s internal clock and regulate circadian rhythm
- Improves metabolic parameters
- Promotion of gut-friendly bacteria and supports gut health
- Balances blood sugar levels
- Reduces blood pressure
- Supports brain function
- Lowers chronic inflammation
- Alleviates symptoms of anxiety and depression
Today, especially in the Western world, we’re eating more than 40% of our nutrition towards the end of the day, which is not healthy for our bodies, specifically the gut. To get an adequate result on this study, I would have it be done on a wider range of ethnicities and nationalities, as well as compare other benefits like gut-bacteria and the above on both groups to see the results. Until a larger, longer-term study is done, we won’t really know the exact benefits, but we have the anecdotal and the clinical benefits that support what we know so far. And because it’s free and with low risk, the type of intermittent fasting I recommend and do myself will continue to be my recommendation for others. Circadian rhythm overnight fasting is a great way to improve your metabolism, brain and gut.
In conclusion, I want to point out a study that looked at more outcomes than just weight loss.
This study, by Ruth Patterson, found that women who fasted for 13 hours nightly had less recurrence of breast cancer as compare with the group that was not fasting 13+ hours a night. The non-fasting group had a breast cancer recurrence that was 36% higher!
The study's sample size was 2,500 and they were all female, breast cancer survivors who kept diary logs of their food and timing. The group that practiced time-restricted eating for 13 hours overnight had lower Hbaic and better sleep as well. It was also done over a seven year timeline, and followed up 11 years later. As mentioned, the above study by The New England Journal of Medicine conducted their study for one year and only had a sample size of 139.
In general, more studies need to be done especially on the longer term affects circadian style time restricted eating— what I practice.