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Alternate-day fasting is a safe alternative weight loss strategy, says experts

Diet fads and weight loss trends are often all about eating this and not eating that. But the results of this recent randomized clinical trial (RCT) suggest that weight loss might be more about meal patterns than food choices.

Published in the journal Cell Metabolism, the findings of a recent RCT suggest that alternate-day fasting (ADF) is a safe and effective diet intervention that can help overweight individuals lose as much as 8 lbs in just a month.

Furthermore, the international team of researchers behind the RCT noted that ADF can reduce caloric intake as much as 37 percent on average and improve biomarkers for heart disease. People practicing ADF for more than six months also reported no side effects.

ADF, according to nutritionists

In a nutshell, ADF is a diet method that entails fasting for 36 hours straight and then eating unhampered for the next 12 hours after that.

It is considered one of the multiple approaches to intermittent fasting, a novel fitness trend that prescribes meal patterns instead of restricting food choices like other diets. (Related: More research backs the potential benefits of intermittent fasting.)

Keri Gans, a registered nutritionist based in Manhattan, notes that ADF can help people lose weight given specific circumstances that necessitate fasting.

Overweight and obese individuals, for instance, might need to fast on top of restricting their food choices in order to lose weight and keep it off. People at risk of cardiometabolic conditions like heart disease also stand to benefit from periods of fasting.

Toronto-based nutritionist Abby Langer affirms this, adding that the intense nature of ADF renders it less sustainable than other diets, but more beneficial to those that need it.

ADF is a safe and effective diet intervention

Some animal studies suggest that caloric restriction, another diet regimen, and intermittent fasting can lead to an increase in lifespan in model organisms. But studies on human subjects remain scant due to the novel nature of ADF.

To determine if ADF is safe and beneficial for humans, an international team of researchers conducted an RCT that involved 60 healthy but overweight participants aged 48 to 52 years.

The team then divided the participants into two groups. One group followed their usual diet, and the other followed the ADF diet. The team monitored the glucose levels of the participants in the ADF group to make sure that none of them ate during their periodic 36 hour-fasts. This group also had to document their fasting periods in their diaries.

In addition, the team examined another group of 30 participants that had been practicing ADF for more than six months prior to the trial to determine if the intervention is safe in the long run. The team found no significant side effects or health complications related to ADF.

By the end of the trial, participants in the ADF group reduced their calorie intake by about 35 percent. Each participant also lost an average of 7.7 lbs as a result of the intervention.

Furthermore, the team noted that ADF had significant effects on certain health markers. For instance, participants in the ADF group had more ketone bodies. These molecules serve as an energy source during periods of fasting or starvation.

The participants in the ADF group also had lower levels of soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (sICAM-1). High amounts of this molecule are related to a greater risk of inflammation and chronic conditions.

The team also noted a significant reduction in the participants’ cholesterol levels and abdominal fat. Both of these are biomarkers for heart disease.

Frank Madeo, a co-author of the study and a professor of biochemistry at the University of Graz in Austria, speculated that the success of ADF might be attributed to the fact that our bodies are attuned to cycles of starvation and excess thanks to evolution.

Madeo added that ADF can be a safe and effective method for weight loss for obese individuals. ADF also shows potential as a useful clinical intervention for chronic inflammation and related diseases.

Potential health risks

Despite its benefits, the team noted that ADF isn’t a recommended diet for the general population for a number of reasons.

For instance, fasting can be dangerous for people with viral infections because it leaves immune cells in need of essential nutrients. Refraining from eating food can also lead to muscle loss, poor sleep, constipation and binge-eating.

The restrictive nature of most diets, including ADF, can also be dangerous if it leads to obsessions over food and eating habits.

All things considered, ADF can be helpful for obese individuals and those suffering from chronic conditions as a result of poor nutrition, such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

If considering going on an ADF program, consult your healthcare provider to address potential health risks.

Read more articles about ADF, calorie restriction and other diet interventions at

Sources include:

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