Research shows time-restricted eating can be an effective weight loss strategy, and also have benefits for overall health and longevity.
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Time Restricted Eating (TRE) has been around for a while, but many of the earlier studies kept suggesting that “more research was needed” to fully understand the benefits of this type of time-based dieting. Well, here it is: a hub for all the recent studies about the topic that build on prior research and speak to how beneficial TRE can be. Of course, each individual is unique and some benefits might be more evident based on individual diets and overall lifestyles.
Time-restricted eating is a form of intermittent fasting that limits what time of day you can eat. TRE has gained popularity as a weight loss strategy, but recent research has also suggested that it has benefits for overall health and longevity. One popular form of TRE is the 16:8 method, where an individual fasts for 16 hours and eats during an 8-hour window, though many other variations exist (e.g., fasting for 14, 16, or 18 hours).
Interested in different benefits of TRE? Jump to the health benefit most relevant to your needs:
SLEEP & CIRCADIAN RHYTHM: Insulin Sensitivity & Metabolism, Hormonal Regulation, Melatonin Production, Improved Sleep Quality
BRAIN HEALTH: Memory Improvement, Anti-inflammatory, Anxiety and Depression
CHRONIC ILLNESS REDUCTION: Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Health, Metabolic Disease, Oxidative Stress
WEIGHT LOSS: Weight Regulation, Fat Burn, Improved Insulin Sensitivity, Improved Energy Metabolism
Need Help Resetting Your Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian rhythm is the internal biological process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and other physiological processes in the body, including hormone production and metabolism.
Recent studies have shown a strong link between circadian rhythm and metabolism. Disruptions to the circadian rhythm can lead to metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. One of the key ways in which time-restricted eating may benefit the circadian rhythm is by synchronizing the timing of food intake with the body’s natural rhythms.
- INSULIN SENSITIVITY & METABOLISM: Research has shown that when food intake is aligned with the natural rhythm of the body, it can lead to improved insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism, and also lipid, or fat, metabolism.
- APPETITE REGULATION: Additionally, time-restricted eating may help to regulate appetite by synchronizing the release of hunger-regulating hormones with the body’s natural rhythm.
- MELATONIN PRODUCTION: Another potential benefit of time-restricted eating is that it helps to regulate the body’s levels of melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness and is responsible for signaling the body to prepare for sleep.
- IMPROVED SLEEP QUALITY: Research has shown that eating late at night can disrupt melatonin production and lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders. By limiting food intake to earlier in the day, time-restricted eating may help to promote healthy melatonin levels and improve sleep quality.
Want to Improve Brain Health?
Time-restricted eating is not only beneficial for supporting sleep patterns, but it may also have positive effects on cognitive function.
- MEMORY IMPROVEMENT: Studies have shown that TRE can improve memory, attention, and learning abilities in both animals and humans. This is likely because fasting can stimulate the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a key role in neuroplasticity and the growth of new neurons.
- ANTI-INFLAMMATORY: Additionally, BDNFs derived from fasting also have anti-inflammatory effects that can protect the brain from damage and disease. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in 2019, found that time-restricted feeding improved cognitive function in mice.
- ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION: TRE not only offers physical brain benefits, but also psychological benefits. It has been shown that time-restricted eating can improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. This may be because it can help regulate the body’s stress response and improve the overall sense of well-being.
Want to Reduce Likelihood of Chronic Illness?
Another potential benefit of time-restricted eating is that it may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Studies have shown that TRE can improve markers of metabolic health, including reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation.
- TYPE 2 DIABETES: TRE may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a growing public health concern affecting over 3 million people in the U.S. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2019 found that time-restricted eating improved markers of diabetes in obese men.
- CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH: TRE also benefits cardiovascular health, as it can improve endothelial function and reduce the risk of heart disease by helping to regulate blood clotting, aiding in the body’s immune response, controlling substances like electrolytes that pass from the blood into tissues, and appropriately dilate and constrict blood vessels.
- METABOLIC DISEASE: In 2020, a study titled Time-restricted Eating for the Prevention and Management of Metabolic Diseases was published in the journal, Endocrine Reviews. The meta study reviewed TRE’s effects on metabolic health with a focus on its potential to prevent and manage metabolic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The study found that TRE leads to weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, and improved markers of cardiovascular health, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These findings are consistent with other studies that have shown that time-restricted eating can promote weight loss and improve overall metabolic health.
- OXIDATIVE STRESS: The study also found that time-restricted eating leads to improvements in markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, which may help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. This is supported by the Salk Institute study which found that time-restricted eating led to a decrease in the expression of genes involved in inflammation, which ultimately lead to these chronic diseases.
The study explored the different protocols of time-restricted eating and how they vary in their effects on metabolic health.
For example, 12 to 18-hour fasts, or short-term fasting protocols, have greater effects on weight loss and insulin sensitivity. However, 24 to 36-hour fasts, or longer-term protocols, have greater effects on markers of oxidative stress and inflammation.
Focused on Weight Loss?
It’s also worth mentioning that time-restricted eating can be a convenient and easy way lose weight since you’re less focused on counting calories or eliminating certain foods. This makes it a more sustainable approach to weight loss and overall health, as it can be easily incorporated into a person’s daily routine.
- WEIGHT REGULATION: A study published in the journal Obesity in 2018 found that TRE, in conjunction with a high-fat diet, led to weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity in obese individuals. The study also found that TRE led to an increase in the expression of genes related to circadian rhythm and metabolism, suggesting that TRE may work by aligning the body’s metabolic processes with its natural circadian rhythm.
- FAT BURN: Another study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2019 found that TRE led to a reduction in body weight and fat mass, as well as improvements in glucose tolerance in obese individuals.
- IMPROVED INSULIN SENSITIVITY: A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry in 2020 found that TRE led to a reduction in body weight and fat mass, as well as improvements in insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in overweight and obese individuals.
- IMPROVED ENERGY METABOLISM: One of the latest studies in Cell Metabolism in 2021 showed that TRE improved energy metabolism and reduced the risk of developing metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Want more information on time-restricted eating?
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The Bottom Line
This body of research suggests that time-restricted eating has benefits for overall health and longevity and can be an effective weight loss strategy. While TRE can improve overall health, it's not a ‘cure-all’. Many factors contribute to longevity, including what you eat, how you exercise, sleep patterns, and overall mental health. Finally, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new fasting program.