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Intermittent fasting is one of the many diets that tends to gain traction as gym-goers everywhere work toward their new year’s fitness goals. And whether weight loss or better overall health is what you’re aiming for, a new study review in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that intermittent fasting, unlike many other fad diets, has substantial scientific evidence to back it up.
It can be done in different ways, but the two most common types of intermittent fasting are daily time-restricted feeding and 5:2 intermittent fasting, according to study author Mark Mattson, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Time-restricted feeding is when you only eat in a certain window each day (usually 6-8 hours), and the 5:2 strategy is when you’re limited to just one moderate-sized meal on two days each week.
Mattson has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years and has practiced it for 20, according to a release. He says the new article is meant to give some clarity to the science and uses for the diet.
Cellular health is a notable benefit seen in animal and some human studies. That’s because alternating between fasting and eating causes the body to switch between using readily accessible, sugar-based fuel and burning fat for energy, according to Mattson.
Studies have suggested that the aforementioned switch can help with blood sugar regulation and lower inflammation. In two studies of 100 overweight women, those who followed the 5:2 iteration of intermittent fasting lost more belly fat and had better insulin sensitivity than those who simply reduced their calories.
Both human and animal studies have also shown that IF lowers blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and resting heart rates—all good things for long-term health.
“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,” Mattson says.
Despite the benefits Mattson highlights in the article, he admits that more research is necessary and that intermittent fasting just isn’t a viable option for some people. But in a sea of diet trends, it seems that intermittent fasting may have at least some science to back it up.