A Tale of Mice and Weight Loss

Web Producer: Brad Maglinger

A study, from the National Institute on Aging, found that lab mice who fasted every other day had significant health benefits. But will it do the same for humans?

One group of mice ate every day, but their calorie intake was restricted. The study group ate only every other day, gorging themselves. Both groups took in the same amount of calories. Still, the fasting mice had both lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and they also maintained their weight throughout the study.

In a similar study, the fasting mice lowered both their blood pressure and resting heart rate. Researchers say it suggests skipping meals isn't bad for you. But that goes against what fitness trainers tell their clients, that fasting slows down your metabolism. And it's definitely not something you're going to hear a dietitian advise anytime soon.

Registered dietitian Marita Cohen said, "If you've got somebody young and healthy, no medical problems, they could probably do it with no big concern. But if you've got somebody whose diabetic or on diabetic medicines or anything like that, I'd be really leery of telling them, 'Oh, go fast a whole day.'"

The researchers say it's far too early to know what this study means for diabetics, or any human for that matter. But their early research indicates fasting may impose a mild stress on cells which makes them more efficient. So, forgoing food is like mini-workout for your cells.

"I don't know. I'd like to see a little a more definite information for this. I'd like to see human studies before I'd advocate it or recommend it to anybody else," said Cohen.

Cohen does like the idea of drastically changing your eating patterns. She says maybe it's not what you're eating, but when. She says the grazing diet makes more sense, eating smaller but more frequent meals over the course of the day.

In addition, researchers say the fasting mice were also better able to fend off a brain toxin that damages nerves in an area of the brain that's critical to memory and learning. It's a part of the brain that's associated with Alzheimer's. It possible that this study may have more far-reaching implications.

For more information on the researchers or this study, click here to visit the National Institute on Aging Web site.