Intermittent fasting concept on blue table

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MEMPHIS — For many people, there’s a constant, nagging inner monologue telling them to start a new diet or get back in the gym. However, some dieting and fitness plans may be doing more harm than good. Whether it’s intermittent fasting, cutting carbs, or going Keto, new research is advising caution for those who restrict their eating habits. Researchers at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center say that eating only one meal per day is associated with an increased risk of death in American adults 40 and older.

The findings contradict the many articles on intermittent fasting research previously published on StudyFinds which demonstrate the wide-ranging benefits of the practice. For example, just recently one report linked intermittent fasting to greater longevity. Another shows that it could potentially help prevent diabetes. Any changes to your diet should always be discussed with your doctor first.

According to the scientists behind this latest report, skipping meals can have harmful effects to your health. While you might enjoy dropping a few extra pounds, skipping breakfast is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. Similarly, missing lunch or dinner can lead to a higher risk of death in general.

The timing of your meals also plays role in health. For those who eat three meals daily, researchers say that meals should be spaced out by 4.5 hours of each other. Otherwise, you may be inching closer to death’s door.

“At a time when intermittent fasting is widely touted as a solution for weight loss, metabolic health, and disease prevention, our study is important for the large segment of American adults who eat fewer than three meals each day. Our research revealed that individuals eating only one meal a day are more likely to die than those who had more daily meals,” says lead study author Yangbo Sun, from the Department of Preventive Medicine at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, in a media release.

2 in 5 people follow a restricted diet plan

The investigators analyzed responses and causes of death from over 24,000 American adults 40 years-old and older who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1999 and 2014. The survey collects data on everything from diet to general health across the U.S.

Researchers found that people who ate less than three meals a day (about 40% of the participants) shared common characteristics such as having less education, lower income, food insecurities, drinking more alcohol, smoking, and have less energy intake overall.

“Our results are significant even after adjustments for dietary and lifestyle factors (smoking, alcohol use, physical activity levels, energy intake, and diet quality) and food insecurity,” adds the study’s senior investigator, Dr. Wei Bao, from the Department of Epidemiology, College of Public Health at the University of Iowa.

Dr. Bao explains that skipping meals means obtaining more energy all at once, which can throw off your body’s ability to metabolize glucose. This can result in damage to your metabolism.

So, the next time you’re considering hopping on the newest diet trend, think twice. Limiting your body’s food (and fuel) intake can have serious long-term consequences and that is more important than fitting into the next size down in jeans. As mentioned, it’s best to talk with your doctor first to figure out the best dietary routine for your health.

The study is published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

About Sophia Naughton

Meet StudyFinds' Associate Editor, Sophia Naughton. Sophia graduated Magna Cum Laude from Towson University with a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication directly focused in journalism and advertising. She is also a freelance writer for Baltimore Magazine. Outside of writing, her best buddy is her spotted Pit Bull, Terrance.

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StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

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82 Comments

  1. Choir Loft says:

    Someone had a lot of time on their hands and an empty notebook when their editor told them to put out a story. LIVING can cause death. Breathing can lead to death. Name something we eat, drink, defecate, breath, smoke or DO that doesn’t eventually wear us out to die. The pages of a calendar will cause that if enough of them are used up. The old saying is true, ‘we’re gonna die of something.’ How is this a sudden revelation? Time for that second or third cup of morning coffee…..(which will probably add to the risk of living).

    1. Bob Rice says:

      You are exactly right. The health benefits of losing weight by sticking to an intermittent fasting schedule FAR outweigh any supposed risk to your health. This is complete and utter nonsense. What will they say next; “if you drink too much water it could kill you because you are flushing out vital nutrients along with the bad stuff in your system?”

  2. Stephen O'Neal says:

    Is this “study” what our university degrees are buying us these days? The only cases I can think of in which fasting is hazardous is for people with serious metabolic dysfunction in which they must carefully regulate their blood sugar, or for those too stupid to drink enough water and eat intelligently when the end their fast. Even then, we are dealing with a relatively uncommon genetic deficiency, or else the terminal stage of the results of a poor diet. Another factor is that a number of people, certainly many in America, are so metabolically compromised that they have great difficulty in fasting, as they are already into insulin resistance – prediabetic. I suspect that most of the legitimate considerations of hazards of fasting are related to this issue. All the more reason to address the idea of biting the bullet while it is still possible, and giving the insulin receptors a break.

    Honestly, skipping a meal or even two isn’t really a fast, It takes a full day and then some to deplete glycogen reserves and significantly shift to ketogenesis. I would have a good look at Dr. Jason Jung’s excellent research on fasting. I have combined walking and forty eight hour fasts with tremendous success. Even one meal daily has significant results, although that is more effective as a maintenance programme, or much more gradual process. Extra consumption of pure water, vitamin C and exercise are very helpful, as the body detoxes by releasing toxins built up in fatty tissue as it is metabolised. Much longer fasts have been quite successful for some individuals, but require more attention to detail. The caveat with all of this is that high nutritional quality and density when eating is important, as well as any consideration for metabolic damage already in progress. That situation can, of course, be handled by a doctor. Also, stupidity has a poor prognosis for most any approach.

    1. Hans Meir says:

      I am not sure you can really call this study “stupid”. A more relevant question would be – what information did this project give us that we did not have before? The study alleges to have followed over 29 thousand men to evaluate a range of biochemical markers. As far as I can tell, they simply took the word of the study groups as to what they ate. This factor alone completely invalidates their conclusions. Because people lie. Therefore we really have added nothing to our knowledge of intermittent fasting and type 2 diabetes. Their primary conclusion being that men who skipped breakfast had a 21% higher risk of diabetes than the control group is a bit of a chuckle. For example, they attempted to analyze diets for men who simultaneously reporting skipping breakfast and who also reported eating before breakfast. Since covid 19 began, it seems that the commandment to follow the science has unfortunately been perverted into something more like follow the people who somehow managed to fiangle advanced degrees. There are a substantial number of men and women who are highly trained, certified, well regarded in their fields and demonstrated to be highly intelligent, that nevertheless have somehow jumped on the crazy train and refuse to get off. Men like Robert Malone, Pierre Kory, Peter Mccollough and Tess Lawrie seem to take anything written on paper as being 100% proven fact, even when said papers are demonstrated to be overt propaganda. I don’t understand why these guys have not been confronted face to face, to demonstrate the falsity of their claims and have the opportunity to retract them. Science now seems to have been transformed into some weird type of he said- she said sophistry. Extremely dangerous for the human race and badly in need of revision of the rules of the game.

    2. Werner Wolf says:

      Well stayed and is exactly what I thought

  3. MrNatural says:

    People who believe this trash should go get another “safe and effective” booster and drink more soy and eat more bugs.

  4. John E says:

    Trash science. They’re not comparing people living healthy lifestyles and practicing intermittent fasting vs non… they’re comparing people who are skipping it for other reasons and don’t take care of their health. Making any claim that this proves ANYTHING about intermittent fasting good or bad is point blank just unscientific — it simply does not address it in the manner in which it is intentionally practised.

  5. Ruth Hall says:

    This is a ridiculous study. It demonstrates nothing in regard to Intermittent Fasting. Why would the author of the “study” want people to eat all of the time? Did a diabetes doctor fund the study to get more patients?

  6. Diana:L says:

    If you follow Dr David Sinclair/Harvard: all studies that are legitimate strongly indicate the exact opposite. Our bodies were designed for feast/famine – only recently have we had the over availability of food. This article is beyond stupid.

  7. Jack says:

    Many commenters here think the study is out of line. Perhaps not, when we look at some other studies. Lowest all cause mortality for body fat in available studies is around 22-25%. Lowest all cause mortality for cholesterol differs, but in some studies it is pretty high 200 -240. Those cholesterol and body fat numbers are pretty high/

    Perhaps people who skip meals are likely to have lower body fat and lower cholesterol, so this study is perhaps consistent with some of the bodyfat and cholesterol mortality studies. If meal skipping results in reduced calories (and I suspect it does), the study would be in line with NIA monkey study. In that study, the calorie restricted monkeys died earlier than the regularly fed control group monkeys. Less may not be more in all cases.

    This is not the only study that relates to meal skipping. There are several breakfast skipping studies that have findings of increased mortality.

  8. Jonathan Phillips says:

    The study ends with a total cliffhanger. There’s no data on the types of foods people eat, whether they smoke, and so forth.

    Overweight people’s cells produce more leptin (the hunger hormone), which can cause them to overeat unhealthy foods if they skip breakfast.

    The scientific literature that supports intermittent fasting massively contradicts the study. Intermittent fasting lengthens telomeres, destroys zombie cells, and optimizes virtually all body functions.

    I have spoken! Mandalorian reference 😉

    1. Jack says:

      I can’t say whether the study holds true in all circumstances. However, a study author said they adjusted for some of those factors that you mentioned (e.g. smoking, diet quality)

      “Our results are significant even after adjustments for dietary and lifestyle factors (smoking, alcohol use, physical activity levels, energy intake, and diet quality) and food insecurity,” said Wei Bao, another author of the study.”

  9. Benjamin David Steele says:

    I’m unconvinced by the claim that, “Our results are significant even after adjustments for dietary and lifestyle factors (smoking, alcohol use, physical activity levels, energy intake, and diet quality) and food insecurity.” There apparently was no control for metabolic health, insulin sensitivity, fat-adaptation, nutrient-density, and food sourcing (pasture-raised, wild-caught, etc).

    How someone responds to various dietary factors depends on numerous other factors. If one is already lacking in nutrients, for example, further reducing nutritional intake would be obviously harmful. That is a key point, considering most Americans are deficient or insufficient in various nutrients. An animal-based low-carb diet will give immense calories and nutrition in a short eating window.