The idea of intermittent fasting is gaining popularity, and newly published research will please advocates. A review of existing studies in the New England Journal of Medicine finds evidence that fasting can lead to a range of health benefits, from decreased stress to lower blood pressure to improved cognition and blood sugar regulation, report CNN and USA Today. Lead author Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins, explains that intermittent fasting generally applies to two different methods: eating only during a six- or eight-hour window each day, or the 5:2 approach, referring to five days of regular eating interspersed with two days of limited calories, usually 500 max. One of the studies cited in the review notes that three men with type 2 diabetes were able to stop taking insulin after dropping weight thanks to fasting.
"We are at a transition point where we could soon consider adding information about intermittent fasting to medical school curricula alongside standard advice about healthy diets and exercise," says Mattson in a news release. The big caveat: Successfully following such a diet is much easier said than done in a society with a strong three-meals-a-day culture. And USA Today talks to a doctor not involved in the study who cautions that it's not for everyone. For example, older patients who fast might wind up with hypoglycemia, which can cause falls. Mattson's study maintains that our forebears fasted out of necessity in times of food scarcity. He suggests our modern bodies can benefit from reverting to the practice thanks to "metabolic switching," in which our cells begin converting fat into energy in a slower process. (Read more fasting stories.)