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Eating during a set window of time may be positive for your health. Getty Images
  • Intermittent fasting with a 10-hour window for eating helped people with type 2 diabetes stay healthy in a recent study.
  • Experts say this form of eating may help other people stay healthy as well.
  • Intermittent fasting can affect your metabolism and potentially push you to avoid metabolic syndrome.

No matter how much of the year we devote to eating a healthy diet, come the holidays it’s easy to overindulge. From Halloween straight through New Year’s, you’re faced with an endless parade of tempting morsels.

But new research finds you may be able to have your cake and eat it, too.

It turns out the trick isn’t what you eat, but when.

In an effort to explore the benefits of fasting in humans, researchers have discovered that people at high risk for developing diabetes saw their health significantly improve when they ate all their meals during a 10-hour window and then fasted for the rest of the day.

Researchers from the Salk Institute and the University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine found that a 10-hour time-restricted eating (TRE) intervention, combined with traditional medications, resulted in weight loss, reduced abdominal fat, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and more stable blood sugar and insulin levels for participants already living with metabolic syndrome.

“We chose metabolic syndrome, which is a mix of increased risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, because it is extremely common in the United States. Currently, it’s treated first with diet and exercise. Unfortunately, it is very hard for people to do this and stick to it. Thus, TRE is a new way to improve health that would be easier to stick to,” Emily Manoogian, PhD, the paper’s first co-author, told Healthline.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions occurring together that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

The study, recently published in Cell Metabolism, suggests this approach also called intermittent fasting may be an effective treatment option for people with metabolic syndrome who are already using medications to treat the condition.

“We have found that combining time-restricted eating with medications can give metabolic syndrome patients the ability to better manage their disease,” Satchin Panda, PhD, co-corresponding author and professor in Salk’s Regulatory Biology Laboratory, said in a statement.

“Unlike counting calories, time-restricted eating is a simple dietary intervention to incorporate, and we found that participants were able to keep the eating schedule,” he added.

The researchers emphasize there’s a critical need for effective lifestyle interventions for metabolic syndrome that aren’t only easy for doctors to teach patients, but also intuitive for people to adopt and maintain.

Their findings suggest that restricted eating can work as an “add-on” to drug treatment, or even prevent the need for medication.

The pilot study included 19 participants (13 men and 6 women) who already had a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. They were asked to self-report when they ate during a time window of about 14 hours per day.

Almost 90 percent of them were taking at least one medication, like a statin or treatment for high blood pressure.

There are previous studies that found benefits of TRE for metabolic syndrome, but this is the first one to test this method on people using medication.

“This is important, as it was unclear how medications may influence the effects of TRE. We were happy to find that TRE was both safe and had many health benefits for individuals already on medication. It served as a co-treatment,” Manoogian said.

Participants used an app created by Panda’s lab to log when and what they ate during a 2-week baseline period followed by the 3-month, 10-hour TRE intervention.

“Our lab created a smartphone app called myCircadianClock to understand when people eat. We found that over 50 percent of adults eat over 15 hours or more,” Manoogian said.

“In that same study, they did a preliminary trial in eight participants that were overweight. They had them eat within 10 hours a day for 16 weeks, and followed up with them 1 year later,” she said. “They found they had lost about 5 percent of their weight and reported less hunger and feeling more rested and had more energy.”

To keep food intake within the 10-hour window, researchers said most participants delayed their first meal and ate their last meal later each day, so no meals were skipped.

Although participants weren’t advised to reduce calories, some participants did report eating less.

“Metabolism is closely linked with circadian rhythms, and knowing this, we were able to develop an intervention to help patients with metabolic syndrome without decreasing calories or increasing physical exercise,” Dr. Pam Taub, co-corresponding author and associate professor of medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and a cardiologist at UC San Diego Health, said in a statement.

“If we can optimize circadian rhythms then we might be able to optimize the metabolic system,” she added.

Manoogian emphasizes that they haven’t yet tested whether TRE can actually prevent metabolic syndrome in humans, and that long-term studies are needed to say for sure.

“Evidence from animal models and human studies from other research groups have shown that time-restricted eating improves cardiometabolic health in people that are overweight and obese but do not have metabolic syndrome,” Manoogian said.

“Because of this and the fact that TRE supports the circadian system and provides a daily fast, both of which improve cardiometabolic health, we hypothesize that 10-hour TRE will help prevent metabolic syndrome,” she said.

Researchers studying the effects of restricting when people eat, but not how much, have found it’s an effective way to improve risk factors of metabolic syndrome, a condition that can cause serious health issues.

Study participants didn’t reduce the calories they ate. They simply ate all their meals within a 10-hour window during the day.

While the findings are promising, researchers emphasize that more studies are needed before they can conclusively say this method of eating will prevent metabolic syndrome.