Intermittent Fasting May Slow Alzheimer’s Progression

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A new study on mice suggests that time-restricted eating may help correct circadian rhythm disruptions associated with Alzheimer’s disease, improve memory, and reduce accumulation of amyloid proteins in the brain.

The study, published in Cell Metabolism, was conducted by scientists at the University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine. Research suggests that circadian disruptions, seen in nearly all Alzheimer’s patients, play a role in the disease’s pathology. For this investigation, researchers aimed to determine whether intermittent fasting could lead to circadian modulation and improved memory.

“For many years, we assumed that the circadian disruptions seen in people with Alzheimer’s are a result of neurodegeneration, but we’re now learning it may be the other way around — circadian disruption may be one of the main drivers of Alzheimer’s pathology,” said senior study author Paula Desplats, PhD, professor in the Department of Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “This makes circadian disruptions a promising target for new Alzheimer’s treatments, and our findings provide the proof-of-concept for an easy and accessible way to correct these disruptions.”

Researchers used mice models to evaluate the impact of intermittent fasting on circadian modulation. The mice were fed during a six-hour window each day, equivalent to about 14 hours of fasting for humans. The study found that compared to mice fed at all hours of the day, mice on a time-restricted eating schedule had better memory, were less active at night, and had a more regular sleep schedule as well as fewer disruptions while asleep.

In addition, the mice on a time-restricted diet showed improvements at a molecular level. Researchers found that multiple genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease and neuroinflammation were different in the mice who fasted compared to those who didn’t. The feeding schedule also helped reduce the amount of amyloid protein that accumulated in the mice’s brains. Amyloid protein deposits are a well-known feature of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers explained.

According to the study's authors, these findings indicate that intermittent fasting interventions may help manage Alzheimer’s disease and improve the disease’s pathology. 

“Time-restricted feeding is a strategy that people can easily and immediately integrate into their lives,” said Desplats. “If we can reproduce our results in humans, this approach could be a simple way to dramatically improve the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s and those who care for them.”