Does time-limited consumption have beneficial effects on health?

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A new review asks if time-limited eating has any health benefits. AleksandarNakic / Getty Images
  • Animal studies have shown significant metabolic benefits of a time-limited diet.
  • Preliminary human studies suggest that these results may be applicable to humans.
  • A recent review examines the evidence from animal and human studies.
  • The authors suggest that more research is needed to determine which restricted eating patterns are both feasible and beneficial for humans.

Researchers looked at the evidence for the health benefits of time-limited eating – a type of intermittent fasting in which people only eat for a window of time each day.

In the review, published in the journal of the Endocrine Society Endocrine examinations, the researchers looked at animal studies and early human studies. They found evidence that time-limited eating can help prevent and manage various chronic metabolic diseases.

However, researchers are also calling for more in-depth studies to further demonstrate the positive effects time-limited eating might have in humans and to determine what underlying mechanisms may explain these effects.

Time-limited feeding has received special attention from researchers in recent years. With a time-limited diet, people usually eat their normal diet, but only for a specified period of time each day. It can range from 6 to 12 hours.

Scientists have demonstrated the benefits of a time-limited diet primarily in studies on mice. However, there are a growing number of pilot studies involving human participants that have shown promising results.

Corresponding author Professor Satchidananda Panda of the Regulatory Biology Lab at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, Calif., Spoke with Medical News Today. He said time-limited feeding studies in animals suggest potential health benefits of time-limited feeding in humans.

“So far, animal studies have shown that time-limited eating affects many organs and even the gut microbiome in a beneficial way. Several pathways and molecules associated with metabolic diseases, such as prediabetes, diabetes, adiposity […], fatty liver disease and some cancers are desirably modulated by time-limited eating, ”said Professor Panda.

For the authors of the recent review, one of the main benefits of time-limited eating is its potential to help correct a person’s disturbed circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythms are a series of processes in the body that work on a 24 hour cycle. Professor Panda and his colleagues note that circadian rhythms have evolved in response to changes in light, temperature, humidity and access to nutrients resulting from the Earth’s day and night cycle.

If a person has a disturbed circadian rhythm, they are at risk for a variety of health issues including metabolic diseases, cancer, immune system issues, mood swings, and reproductive issues.

Modern lifestyles can disrupt the circadian rhythm in a number of ways. According to Professor Panda and his colleagues, 40% of the population works, occupies or socializes late at night, resulting in disruption of the circadian rhythm.

An underlying cause for this disturbance could be an increase in food intake outside of what the body anticipates based on its circadian rhythm, that is, at night rather than during the day.

Prof Panda and colleagues point out that the circadian rhythms associated with peripheral organs and most of the brain are primarily affected by the timing of nutritional intake.

As a result, a time-limited diet that involves a period of nighttime fasting has the potential to support circadian rhythms and reduce the risk of negative health effects that a disturbed circadian rhythm can cause.

Professor Panda and his colleagues also point out how studies in mice show that eating for a limited period of time can reduce body fat and may improve gut health.

The researchers note that there have been relatively few human studies on the benefits of time-restricted eating. However, the first results of these studies confirm the benefits seen in animal models, including reductions in body weight, body fat, waist circumference and body mass index.

Professor Dorothy Sears of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, University of California San Diego School of Medicine also spoke with MNT.

Professor Sears is an expert on time-limited eating and circadian rhythms. She said the study by Professor Panda and colleagues “is an in-depth review article that summarizes the accumulated evidence that aligning food intake with the body’s biological rhythms promotes health.”

Current research also gives an indication of the ideal window of time in which to limit food intake.

Talk with MNTProfessor Panda said: “Human studies have tested time-limited eating at 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 hours, and these studies show dose-response responses.”

“A diet limited in time to four and six hours can have many benefits among [people with overweight and obesity], but it also reduces the quality of life due to its detrimental effects on the feeling of excessive hunger, dizziness, headache and nausea, etc.

“The eight and ten hour time-limited meal windows are well tolerated, offer several benefits, and people voluntarily adopt such practices over the long term. “

“A twelve hour time-limited diet may not produce immediate benefits in a few months, but we don’t know in the long term if it might provide some benefit. “

According to Professor Sears, “There is not enough research evidence to support a particular diet, for example, the best time of day to start / stop eating or the number of hours to ‘eat’ per day. . “

“A growing body of evidence suggests that the ideal general diet is to consume calories in the morning and afternoon, consuming a small percentage of daily calories in the evening – 30% or less of total calories – and avoiding total calories altogether. calorie intake at night. “

– Prof. Dorothy Sears

“Promising evidence from Dr. Panda’s mouse lab supports that an occasional ‘day off’ from limited-time eating or eating at night can still benefit humans,” Professor Sears said.

However, Professor Panda told MNT that some people should consult a healthcare practitioner before starting time-limited eating.

“Most people and caregivers find it safe for anyone, from teens to the elderly, to eat a 12-hour time-limited diet on most days. A ten-hour time-limited diet is also possible for many people who do not suffer from any chronic illness, ”Professor Panda said.

“For people with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and related chronic diseases, a time-limited diet of 10 hours or less […] may require medical supervision for potential hypoglycemia and medication adjustments. Likewise, people with other chronic conditions can also consult their doctor before starting to eat for a limited time of 8 or 10 hours.

“A 6 or 4 hour time-limited diet may not be recommended for most people. Such a short feeding window can also inadvertently reduce the daily calorie intake significantly or reduce the intake of certain macro- or micronutrients. Such a time-limited diet may also not be sustainable in the long term, ”advised Professor Panda.

Professor Sears seconded this, telling MNT that, “overall, a time-limited diet appears to pose a low risk for most people, including those with type 2 diabetes.”

“Some people report modest, transient side effects, such as nausea or dizziness. Due to the small size of the studies, self-reported compliance, and scheme specifics, more research is needed to fully assess them. “

“People with conditions that impact metabolism – for example, thyroid disorders, diabetes, and pregnancy – should consult their health care provider before starting a diet that involves fasting longer than normal. night, ”suggested Professor Sears.

Professor Panda said MNT that scientists need to do much more research to better understand the benefits of time-limited diets in animals and humans.

“Most of the time-limited feeding studies have been in young male mice. We need to extend these studies to both sexes and older mice. “

“Many time-limited dietary benefits indicate molecular changes in multiple organs, but we don’t know what those changes are. Thus, in-depth molecular studies in several organs are needed for a better mechanistic understanding of time-limited eating.

“Although a time-limited diet may seem easy to adopt, many find it difficult. […] Thus, the implementation research on the search for personal, interpersonal, cultural, work-related and societal obstacles to the adoption of a diet limited in time [is] necessary, ”said Professor Panda.

For Professor Sears, larger and more powerful studies are needed to better understand how exactly to implement time-limited eating.

Professor Sears said that “Randomized controlled trials large enough in sample size are absolutely necessary to properly assess the different times of food intake and the associated health changes. All randomized controlled studies published to date include a small number of individuals, [and] thus, the results of these are unreliable.

“Nonetheless, these studies strongly suggest various health benefits that warrant further research. Major areas of interest include cardiometabolic disease, cancer, cognition, and mental health.

– Prof. Dorothy Sears

“There are several large trials now funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense to test the benefits of a circadian-aligned food intake schedule,” Prof Sears explained. “The results of these should be informative and provide statistically more robust interpretations to guide public health recommendations.”

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