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More than weight loss: Intermittent fasting may help protect older adults from injury - Study Finds

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — An intermittent fasting diet could help protect older people from falls and other injuries by building up their muscles, a study has discovered.

Intermittent fasting, also known as time-restricted eating, could also be a cost-efficient intervention to prevent type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and liver cancer, a team from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California says. Fasting for a longer period could also better protect against infectious diseases like COVID-19 and even save people from dying of sepsis.

Intermittent fasting is a dietary regimen that’s growing in popularity. The diet holds people to eating between an eight-hour window and could have multiple health benefits besides weight loss. Researchers fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet to mice from two different age groups — equivalent to 20 and 42-year-old humans.

The team ran tests and compared the outcomes of time-restricted eating (TRE) on fatty liver disease, glucose regulation, muscle mass, performance and endurance, and sepsis survival rates. Researchers also worked at night to match the animals’ circadian clocks, working with night vision goggles and specialized lighting.

Regardless of age, sex or weight loss, TRE strongly protected against fatty liver disease. Estimates show that up to 20 percent of U.S. adults have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, where there are small amounts of fat in their livers. This can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis, over more time passes.

Can intermittent fasting prevent serious hospital complications?

Oral glucose tolerance tests given to mice after 16 hours of fasting indicated that intermittent fasting was associated with a lower increase in blood glucose and a faster return to normal blood sugar levels in both young and middle-aged males, with a significant improvement in glucose tolerance in young and middle-aged females. Similarly, middle-aged mice on TRE were able to restore normal blood sugar levels more efficiently than control mice, who had food available at all times.

The researchers also found that intermittent fasting may protect both males and females from sepsis-induced death. This is a particular danger in ICUs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After administering a toxin that induced a sepsis-like condition in the mice, the researchers monitored survival rates for 13 days and found that TRE protected both male and female mice from dying of sepsis.

A muscle boost for seniors

Professor Satchidananda Panda says the intermittent fasting diet even enabled male mice to preserve and add muscle mass and improve muscle performance. Study authors did not observe the same effect in females. The team says this is a major finding for the elderly, who are at the highest risk of fall-related injuries.

“For many TRE clinical interventions, the primary outcome is weight loss, but we’ve found that TRE is good not only for metabolic disease but also for increased resilience against infectious diseases and insulin resistance,” Panda says in a university release.

“This was our first time studying female mice, and we weren’t sure what to expect,” adds Dr. Amandine Chaix, an assistant professor at the University of Utah. “We were surprised to find that, although the females on TRE were not protected from weight gain, they still showed metabolic benefits, including less-fatty livers and better-controlled blood sugar.”

The findings appear in the journal Cell Reports .

South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.