Time-restricted eating benefits those at risk for diabetes, heart disease

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A form of intermittent fasting, called time-restricted eating, improved the health of patients who had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, according to a new study by researchers from University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

The study involved 19 participants diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, with 16 taking at least one medication, like a statin. Participants used an app to log when and what they ate during an initial two-week baseline period followed by three months of 10-hour time-restricted eating per day. They were told they could decide what time to eat and how much to eat if all food consumption occurred within a 10-hour window.

At the end of the 12 weeks, participants averaged a 3 percent reduction in weight and body mass index (BMI) and a 4 percent reduction in abdominal or visceral fat. Many also experienced reductions in cholesterol and blood pressure and improvements in fasting glucose. Participants also reported an increase in sleep satisfaction or in the amount they slept. Further, more than two-thirds of participants continued with time-restricted eating for up to a year after the study concluded, at least part of the time.

Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, that increase the risk for adverse health issues, from heart disease and diabetes to stroke. Eating healthier, getting more exercise, and taking prescribed medications when needed are common remedies but often prove insufficient to fully managing risks.

Time-restricted eating allows individuals to eat in a manner that supports their circadian rhythms and their health. Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cycles of biological processes that affect nearly every cell in the body. Erratic eating patterns can disrupt this system and induce symptoms of metabolic syndrome, including increased abdominal fat and abnormal cholesterol or triglycerides.

"Adapting this 10-hour time-restricted eating is also a cost-effective method for reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome and improving health," said Satchin Panda, PhD, corresponding author and professor in Salk's Regulatory Biology Laboratory. "By delaying the onset of diabetes by even one year in a million people with prediabetes, the intervention could save roughly $9.6 billion dollars in healthcare costs.”

The researchers are currently conducting another clinical trial to examine the benefits of time-restricted eating in a larger group of more than 100 participants with metabolic syndrome. The study examines additional measures that will help the researchers investigate changes in body composition and muscle function.