Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Expanding waistlines, low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides in the blood, rising blood pressure and high blood sugar are common concerns. But these health woes can lead to some serious consequences. They’re all part of a cluster of conditions that, together, are called metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a growing problem – an article in Current Hypertension Reports calls it a “global epidemic.” When you have metabolic syndrome, you’re at a higher risk for ailments like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. While medications and lifestyle changes like a healthy diet are often prescribed to treat this syndrome, research suggests that when you’re eating may also play an important role.
Researchers from the Salk Institute and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine recently found that combining time-restricted eating (a form of intermittent fasting) and a shorter eating window with medications may hold potential as a solution for metabolic syndrome.
Shorten your eating window for a whole host of benefits
To conduct the study, researchers worked with 19 participants – 13 men, 6 women – who were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. 84 percent of the individuals were already taking at least one medication to treat the syndrome, like a statin or antihypertensive drug. These participants self-reported eating across a window that covered more than 14 hours each day.
For the first two weeks of the study, researchers collected baseline data as participants logged when and what they ate. Next, over the course of three months, the participants continued logging when and what they ate – but they were restricted to eating only during a 10-hour period each day.
To fit their meals within the 10-hour window, participants primarily ate breakfast later and dinner earlier to avoid skipping meals. Though they didn’t have to limit their calorie intake, some participants did report that they ate less.
The results suggested great potential for participants’ health. Over the duration of the study, participants reported better sleep. They also saw a 3 to 4 percent reduction in their weight, BMI, abdominal fat and waist circumference. Two key risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, also decreased. Blood sugar and insulin levels improved too.
Why does an intermittent fasting (or time-restricted eating) approach offer so much potential? Previous research conducted by the Salk Institute’s researchers on mice and published in 2018 suggested that this supports the body’s natural circadian rhythms. A more consistent, less erratic eating pattern like time-restricted eating may have a positive effect on metabolic disorders and the metabolism overall.
As the researchers put it, sticking with a consistent 10-hour window allows the body to anticipate when you’ll eat next so it can prepare to optimize your metabolism. Optimizing your eating window may potentially help you optimize your metabolism.
Pairing time-restricted eating with medication might be the best approach
There is an important distinction mentioned in the study: a shorter time-restricted eating window worked in combination with the traditional medications taken by participants. Shortening your eating period to 10 hours each day had an impact, but its impact appeared along with the medications prescribed by doctors. It isn’t a miracle cure, but a potentially supportive lifestyle change.
When you limit how many hours you’re eating throughout the day and stick with a consistent schedule – and take your prescribed medications appropriately – the results may be great for tackling metabolic syndrome. You may see weight loss, less abdominal fat, and a reduction in the key factors of the condition.
To make the shift to a shorter eating window, you can give intermittent fasting a try. Intermittent fasting may help reset your body’s critical systems and just may offer some impressive potential health benefits on its own. We’ve got tips you can try to ease into time-restricted eating on any schedule, and there are even apps that can help you get into the swing of a new eating pattern.