A previous study that Mattson co-authored showed that the previously mentioned metabolic switch can increase the resistance to stress by improving overall brain function and neuroplasticity, a fancy term for the brain’s ability to adapt and restructure itself throughout one’s life.
Older adults who were put on a restricted-calorie diet similar to intermittent fasting have shown improved verbal memory compared to another group who hadn’t done intermittent fasting. Even physical function and performance improved for some participants. One study with young male participants who fasted every day for 16 hours reported that they lost fat and retained their muscle mass while being on a training regimen for two months.
What are the limitations?
Since the science on intermittent fasting is relatively new, more research would need to be done to fully comprehend its long-term effects on our bodies, and the existing studies are just too narrow. They have mainly been focused on overweight middle-aged and young adults, which means that the benefits they’ve experienced and its safety cannot be generalized to other demographic groups.
There’s another important thing we need to look into. This diet can be extremely difficult to stick to, especially for the average American for whom the concept of having three meals a day is such a fundamental thing that trying to change it to adopt a different eating pattern would be equal to blasphemy. The same goes for the doctors who wouldn’t even think of prescribing it. It is true however that it will almost surely leave the patients hungry, irritable, moody and less able to focus on their daily tasks.
In a JAMA study made in 2017, almost 40% of the participants who were put on an intermittent fasting diet dropped out of it. This is one of the drawbacks of intermittent fasting as a weight-loss method. People find it hard to stick to and it takes real mental and physical toughness to go through with it.
After all, it’s only human nature to want to reward yourself with something after doing hard work, like exercising or fasting for a long period. The most likely reward is junk food which although at first may be controlled, after a while makes people fall off completely off the wagon.
The reason why lots of people give up or go back to their previous eating habits is that when the brain is deprived of nutrients, hormones in charge of controlling appetite are released by the hypothalamus in great amounts which can cause overeating. However, the hunger pain is temporary. Doctors should point out to their patients that feeling hungry and irritable is something to be expected and usually passes within two weeks to a month as the brain and the body get accustomed to the new eating habits.