Skipping meals may help, not hurt, your health

April 29, 2003 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Skipping meals may help, not hurt, your health
New findings in mice suggest that skipping the occasional meal may be good for your health. A report released this week found that a diet in which mice ate only every other day appeared to protect them more from diabetes and the memory-robbing Alzheimer�s disease than either a low-calorie diet or eating as much food as they wanted every day.

The mice are better off on a diet where they eat fewer meals ... than when they have continuous access to food, even if that food is part of a reduced-calorie diet, study researchers of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, Maryland said.

Although the research was conducted in another species, the findings appear to suggest that, for healthy adult humans, forgoing a meal now and then may not be such a bad idea, \\\"and it may be beneficial.\\\" However, the researchers caution against eating nothing for an entire day.

The mice were forced to fast for a day and then given free reign to gorge on food the next. Consequently, those who fasted ate as many calories as did mice given as much food as they wanted every day. A third group of mice ate every day, but consumed 40 percent fewer calories than the other rodents. After the mice followed the diet for five months, the researchers gave them a neurotoxin that selectively damages nerve cells important for learning and memory, a pattern typically seen in Alzheimer�s disease.

The researchers found that the toxin damaged fewer nerve cells in the brains of mice who fasted than in those who either ate freely or followed the low-cal diet.
Furthermore, blood tests revealed that mice who fasted had lower insulin levels than those who followed the other diets, an indication they also had a reduced risk of developing diabetes.

Past studies suggest that substantially cutting calories increases life span and reduces the risk of age-related diseases. The fact that occasional fasting appeared to protect against Alzheimer\'s and diabetes slightly better than a low-calorie diet suggests that people can ward off the effects of aging without starving themselves.

The current findings appear to contradict the adage that humans and other animals should eat regularly throughout the day, and suggests that researchers should take another look at whether that adage is true.

Looking back over human history, it makes sense that skipping the occasional meal may serve our bodies well, the researcher explained. Early humans did not have the luxury of constant access to food, he said, and many often ate one meal per day or endured several days of fasting before they found more food. The humans that survived long enough to reproduce were the ones who thrived in this environment, he noted, and our modern bodies may not be so different.

Eating fewer meals may protect nerve cells by placing them under mild stress, which helps them become better at responding to more stress, such as the neurotoxin. Diabetes stems from problems in glucose metabolism, and fasting may help mice avoid diabetes by cutting back on when they receive glucose (in the form of food), causing their cells to become better at metabolizing it when the glucose reappears.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.