You’ve heard about so many nutrition plans that restrict WHAT you eat. “Don’t eat fats,” “don’t eat carbs,” “restrict the amount of protein you eat,” or even “only eat this cabbage soup.” And, of course, WHAT you eat has an effect on your health. But what if WHEN you eat matters, too?
“Time-restricted eating,” or “intermittent fasting” as the practice is also known, has been studied as a way to lose weight. It has also been shown to provide other health benefits, such as lower blood glucose levels. However, a new study shows that whether or not you reap these benefits from timing your eating may depend on your age and gender.
Researchers divided mice into groups based on age and gender. Then they fed them according to a time-restricted eating schedule and observed the groups’ reactions to this type of nutrition format. Although a number of similar studies have been conducted previously on mice, rats, or similar rodents, it was only relatively recently that scientists began to separate for age or gender–earlier studies didn’t make any distinctions based on these categories.
Researchers noted differences between the male and female reactions to time-restricted eating, specifically in the way that nutrients are integrated into the body. One of the benefits of time-restricted eating is to give the body enough time to properly break down and absorb all the nutrients in food during the “fasting” phase. Researchers found that time-restricted eating had a distinct tendency toward increased muscle mass, strength, and endurance in male mice. Male mice also experienced a reduction in cholesterol and lipid levels. Female mice displayed a lesser reaction to the new diet overall. However, they demonstrated a pronounced tendency towards increased protection against metabolic diseases as they aged.
A similar study was conducted with groups of mice separated into seniors and young adults. Researchers there found that the older mice produced a relatively minor protein synthesis response after eating at any time when compared with young adults. This lower response may be insufficient to properly process smaller quantities of food, especially in light of the slower metabolism found in older mice. This leads to insufficient muscle protein synthesis and, in turn, muscle atrophy. Time-restricted eating was more effective because it more thoroughly stimulated the digestive system and prompted more effective absorption of food and its conversion into usable particles.
These new findings about the effects of intermittent fasting in mice can help humans–including researchers, doctors, and patients–choose strategies that better suit their age and gender. This data could be the basis for adjusting human nutrition regimens–in both timing and content–so that they better suit each patient individually and lead to a healthier populace overall.