Fasting at This Time of Day Can Help Control Blood Sugar, Says New Study

A new endocrinology study shows how early time-restricted feeding is reshaping our approach to health and diabetes prevention.

Early time-restricted feeding (eTRF) is gaining attention in the realm of nutritional strategies. eTRF advocates consuming most of your daily calories within the first six to eight hours of the day, aligning eating patterns with our natural circadian rhythms. This approach appeals to health enthusiasts seeking to optimize metabolic health and stave off conditions like diabetes.

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The study’s findings and implications

The potential of eTRF in improving metabolic health came under the spotlight in a study presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in June 2023. Led by researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the study observed participants with prediabetes and obesity following an eTRF pattern, where 80% of daily calories were consumed before 1:00 p.m.

The findings were intriguing. Joanne Bruno, MD, PhD, an endocrinology fellow at NYU Langone Health and one of the authors of the study, commented in a news release: “Our research shows that just one week of following this diet strategy reduces fluctuations in blood sugar levels and reduces the time that the blood sugar is elevated above normal levels.” She added that these results suggest that eTRF could be “a helpful strategy for those with prediabetes or obesity to keep their blood sugars in a normal range and prevent them from progressing to type 2 diabetes.”

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The prevalence and impact of prediabetes and diabetes

The escalating prevalence of prediabetes and diabetes in the United States presents a concerning public health issue. Over half of the adult population is either prediabetic or diabetic, illustrating an alarming uptick in these metabolic disorders. This disturbing trend is likely a result of lifestyle changes, including increased sedentary behavior and unhealthy dietary practices. Prediabetes, characterized by blood sugar levels higher than normal but not yet high enough to be classified as diabetes, often serves as a red flag, signaling the likely progression to full-blown diabetes if no interventions are made.

Both these conditions often pave the way for a host of other health problems, notably heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, posing a serious threat to individuals’ longevity and quality of life. Therefore, these figures highlight the pressing need for effective prevention strategies, improved public health policies, and education to combat the rising tide of prediabetes and diabetes.

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The potential benefits and challenges of eTRF

The benefits of eTRF extend beyond blood sugar control. Other potential advantages include weight loss, improved appetite management and better alignment with our body’s circadian rhythm, which can contribute to overall health and well-being.

However, implementing eTRF is not without challenges. Social and cultural norms often favor late meals, making it difficult for some people to transition to eTRF. Individual variability can also influence the effectiveness and applicability of eTRF, with genetic and lifestyle factors playing a role.

Further, licensed clinical professionals may not recommend this practice for individuals who have experienced disordered eating. Anyone who’s curious about trying it should speak with their healthcare provider first.

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Comparison with other dietary approaches

eTRF is a subset of intermittent fasting (IF), a broader category that includes ratios of 16:8 (16 hours fasting then meals within eight hours), 5:2 (five days of eating normally with two days of restricted calories) , and alternate-day fasting. While eTRF and these other intermittent fasting protocols share the same goal—alternating periods of eating and fasting—their timing and duration vary.

José Alemán, MD, PhD, senior author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone, highlights the potential of eTRF by stating, “Eating [the] majority of one’s calories earlier in the day reduces the time that the blood sugar is elevated, thereby improving metabolic health.” This approach could provide a promising alternative to other forms of intermittent fasting and calorie restriction.

Again, it’s critical to consult a healthcare provider before embarking on any dietary intervention, including eTRF. Every individual’s health situation is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another since everyone’s physiology and body chemistry varies.

While initial research on eTRF is promising, more long-term studies are needed to determine the optimal protocols and assess the durability of its benefits. The dawn of early dining might be upon us, but we must wait for more scientific evidence to fully understand its potential in the realm of metabolic health.

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Medically reviewed by Latoya Julce RN, BSN, on August 02, 2023

Dr. Patricia Varacallo, DO
Tricia is a doctor of osteopathy with experience in primary healthcare. She received her medical degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and conducts clinical research in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, as she is motivated by the desire to contribute to the development of innovative treatments and therapies. She is also a certified lifestyle coach for the CDC-recognized National Diabetes Prevention Program, empowering individuals to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes. Dr. Varacallo loves to write— especially about health, wellness, and grief. Drawing from her own experiences of loss and caregiving, she loves to offer support and encouragement to those navigating their own grief journeys. Outside of her professional life, she enjoys traveling and exploring the sunny beaches of Florida with her significant other, always ready for their next adventure.