Feast: Why Humans Share Food

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Feast: Why Humans Share Food by Martin Jones

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But the effects of alternate feast and fast days on body weight and health have only recently been explored. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in , scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center examined the effects of alternate-day fasting on heart disease risk in 16 subjects.

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Subjects ate whatever they wanted on feast days but consumed only calorie-free beverages and sugarless gum on fast days. After three weeks, blood levels of triglycerides fell in men, but not in women.

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There was no clear explanation for the differing results between men and women, but the same group of scientists have observed other sex-specific effects. In a different report, they measured the rise in insulin and blood sugar levels in response to a meal before and after three weeks of alternate-day fasting. Men -- but not women -- had increased insulin sensitivity so that they cleared sugar from the bloodstream more efficiently after three weeks on the regime, suggesting that alternate-day fasting may be more beneficial to men than women in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Similar improvements in insulin sensitivity were observed after two weeks of alternate-day fasting in a small study of eight male subjects at the University of Copenhagen, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in The effects of alternate-day fasting on body weight differ according to the study and none have been reported in overweight people. Men in the Copenhagen study maintained a stable body weight over the two week period -- but they were specifically instructed to attempt to do so.

Feast: Why Humans Share Food

In the Pennington study, subjects were informed that they would need to double their usual intake on non-fasting days in order to maintain their weight. But taking in enough food on the feasting days to avoid weight loss proved difficult. The participants lost about 2. All in all, the few human studies on alternate-day fasting have been small in size, short in duration and have lacked control groups so more studies are warranted.

Still, the animal studies suggest that the effects of alternate-day fasting on chronic disease prevention are similar to those reported for chronic calorie restriction.

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