Your mother may have been wrong: skipping meals may be good for you. It has been known for years that sharply restricting the calorie intake of laboratory animals increases their life span. But a new study by researchers from the National Institute on Aging found that mice that fasted every other day, then were allowed to eat what they wanted on the intervening days, seemed more resistant to diabetes than did control mice or animals on calorie-restricted diets. They were also resistant to a condition similar to Alzheimer's disease.
Intermittent fasting is a much more palatable lifestyle than the continual self-denial of a highly calorie-restricted diet, says Judith S. Stern, Sc.D., vice president of the American Obesity Association. "You can almost have your cake and eat it too."
Study author Mark Mattson, Ph.D., hypothesizes that intermittent fasting works because each fast is a mild stress. The animals respond by increasing production of substances known as stress-resistance proteins, which may make them more resistant to disease. In addition, the intermittently fasting mice produce more of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes learning, memory and the growth and survival of nerve cells. This BDNF appears to make the animals more resistant to a neurotoxin that produces brain damage similar to Alzheimer's disease, Mattson says.