Intermittent fasting refers to an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and periods of fasting. Intermittent fasting has various potential benefits, including weight loss and improved heart health.

Intermittent fasting has grown in popularity in recent years. It is one of the recommendations for weight loss. However, there are many other ways intermittent fasting may benefit the body.

There are various methods of intermittent fasting, depending on how long a person fasts. For example, the 16:8 method involves an 8-hour eating window each day, combined with a 16-hour fasting cycle. Another example is the 5:2 method. This involves eating a standard amount of healthful foods for 5 days, followed by 2 days of a highly reduced caloric intake.

No matter which method of intermittent fasting a person chooses, they should discuss it with a healthcare professional first.

This article lists and explains 10 potential benefits of intermittent fasting.

Female in a kitchen pouring a glass of waterShare on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

Most current research suggests that intermittent fasting may be an effective weight management strategy. It is unlikely to be more beneficial than traditional calorie restriction, but some may find intermittent fasting easier to maintain long-term.

A trial from 2017 compared the impact of intermittent fasting and a typical calorie restriction diet on weight loss over 1 year. Both forms of dieting were similarly effective for weight loss. There were no significant differences between the two groups for other markers of health, such as blood pressure or heart rate.

Read more tips for weight loss.

Intermittent fasting may also have benefits for diabetes prevention. Not only can it aid in weight loss, but research also shows that it can reduce insulin resistance, which is a major feature of type 2 diabetes.

Having overweight or obesity is one of the main risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. This means that weight loss can help prevent a person from developing type 2 diabetes, especially if they have prediabetes.

A 2022 review on intermittent fasting and metabolic health showed that intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance. It states that this could be due to reduced energy, or calorie, intake can lead to decreased insulin production. However, this review also states that there is a lack of scientific evidence to say that intermittent fasting is any more effective than traditional caloric restriction. More research is needed on larger controlled trials.

On the other hand, a 2018 rat study suggests that intermittent fasting could increase the risk of diabetes. The study tracked the results of intermittent fasting in rats over a 3-month period. Scientists need to replicate the results of this study, and further research is now necessary to find out whether these findings in rats apply to humans.

A 2015 study, reported in a 2017 review, also showed that intermittent fasting may be more effective for regulating blood sugar in males than in females. The study showed that after 3-weeks of intermittent fasting, blood sugar regulation in the female participants worsened, whereas in males, it improved.

Researchers have also found that intermittent fasting could improve aspects of cardiovascular health.

A review from 2016 reported that intermittent fasting could lead to a decrease of the following in both humans and animals:

Triglycerides are a type of fat present in the blood that is linked to heart disease.

All the ways intermittent fasting can benefit the body, such as reducing inflammation, blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance, may also impact brain health.

Animal research from 2019 shows that intermittent fasting may increase the growth of new nerve cells. This may, in turn, benefit brain function.

Other animal studies have found that intermittent fasting can reduce the risk of neurological disorders, including:

More research is necessary to investigate whether these findings apply to humans.

Animal studies also suggest that intermittent fasting may help reduce the risk of cancer.

A series of recent animal studies indicate that restrictive diets such as intermittent fasting could delay the onset of tumors. However, no current studies have established links between intermittent fasting and cancer in humans.

Obesity is a risk factor for various cancers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This means the weight loss aspect of intermittent fasting may be partly responsible for the reduced cancer risk that some studies hint at.

Intermittent fasting may also decrease several biological factors with links to cancer, such as insulin levels and inflammation.

There are signs that intermittent fasting may reduce the risk of cancer. However, further research in humans is necessary to support this claim.

There are several changes that take place in the body when a person does not eat for a bit. These changes include:

  • Hormone levels: The body changes hormone levels in order to make stored body fat more accessible.
  • Insulin levels: Blood insulin levels drop, and this promotes fat burning.
  • Human growth hormone (HGH) levels: The level of HGH in the blood may increase. This promotes fat burning, muscle gain, and provides other benefits.
  • Cellular repair: The body begins important cellular repairs, such as removing waste material from cells.
  • Gene expression: Changes to several genes occur that are beneficial to disease protection and longevity.

Oxidative stress involves free radicals that react with other important molecules, such as proteins and DNA, and damage them. Free radicals are unstable molecules within the body.

It plays a role in aging and various chronic conditions.

A 2018 review states that intermittent fasting may help enhance the body’s resistance to oxidative stress.

A study from 2019 found that intermittent fasting may also help reduce inflammation, which plays a role in various conditions.

When a person fasts, the body begins a cellular waste removal process called autophagy.

During autophagy, cells break down and metabolize dysfunctional or broken proteins that can buildup over time.

The increase in autophagy that can occur during times of fasting may help to provide protection against various conditions, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

A study from 2023 states that intermittent fasting can help to activate autophagy. It also notes that this activation may increase the benefits of intermittent fasting.

A 2023 review found that the physiological changes that occur during intermittent fasting may help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Animal studies from 2019 also showed that intermittent fasting may help protect against other neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. However, more research is needed to verify if this translates to humans as well.

Animal studies have shown that intermittent fasting may help to extend a person’s life span in the same way that long-term calorie restriction can.

A 2017 study on mice found that every-other-day fasting helped to extend their lifespan by 13%.

Another study on mice from 2019 also showed that intermittent fasting improved the overall health of male mice. It helped delay various conditions that are common in aging mice, such as fatty liver disease. More research is needed to verify these connections to humans, however.

Research suggests that intermittent fasting could have a variety of health benefits. For example, intermittent fasting may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Animal research suggests that intermittent fasting may also have further benefits in reducing the risk of cancer and several neurological conditions. There is a particular need for research that focuses on translating findings from animal studies into humans.

Overall, studies indicate that intermittent fasting may be as effective as traditional calorie restriction in relation to weight loss and the reduction of body fat. There is also evidence to show that intermittent fasting may be easier to stick to than other traditional weight loss methods. However, individuals should always discuss a new eating plan with a healthcare professional before starting.