Looking for a longer life and a smaller waist? Fasting may be the answer.

By Abigail Miller • Published: August 21st, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Can drastically cutting back on calories really help you turn back the clock? Research suggests the benefits of fasting may be more than a smaller waistline; they could include a longer lifespan.

Fasting is tough for many people because, well, dieting is difficult. Realizing this, scientists have been looking for more realistic approaches to lifelong fasting-based diets, which typically means cutting 500 to 600 calories each day. The results of a second phase of a 2011 study, published earlier in Science Translational Medicine, showed dieters only had to restrict calories by 60 percent for five straight days a month over three months to get the benefits of a full fast-mimicking diet.

Scientists have long known that restricting calories by 20 to 50 percent without malnutrition can extend the lifespan of creatures from rodents and guppies to monkeys. Whether it works on humans is an unanswered question, but recent research points to changes in study participants that are promising.

In one study, after three months of five-day fasting-mimicking diets, the participants had no major adverse effects and had lower biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer compared with a control group that maintained normal caloric intake.

The diet was particularly helpful to those in the worst shape when they started it. Those who entered the trial with prediabetes, for example, had blood glucose levels in the normal range at the end.

Many of these fast-mimicking diets have gained popularity in recent years, but researchers are running into an old problem: The number of participants who quit the trials remains high. That’s because, well, dieting remains difficult.