As we continue in our global fight to get on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, I find myself researching various ways to help support a natural immune system. For baby boomers and older adults, we want a balanced system to protect us from all outside invaders, including this virus.
One intriguing strategy that appears to support not only immunity, but gut and cardiovascular health, as well as our fight against cancer, is called time-restricted eating (TRE). You may have heard of this by its other moniker, intermittent fasting.
The idea behind time-restricted eating is to respect the natural molecular clocks, or circadian rhythm, in our digestive organs. Our digestive system works best during the daylight hours, honed by thousands of years of evolution. And further, limiting our eating to a relatively narrow period of time promotes health. TRE leads to a longer “fast” each day, and fasting, it turns out, triggers several essential cellular functions.
When You Eat Matters
Most people eat during a 15-hour window each day, maybe starting breakfast at 6:00 am and ending with a late night snack at 9:00 pm. Research is showing that a more appropriate timeframe is to limit eating to 8 – 12 hours. A typical day would look more like breakfast at 8:00 am, then no eating after 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm. The other important caveat to this is that eating stops no later than 2 – 3 hours before bedtime.
Benefits of TRE
- Animal studies with TRE have produced great results–this pattern can prevent or reverse chronic metabolic diseases, and also reduce the risk of infection. Research on humans has been limited, and more work is needed.
- But some human studies show that TRE can lead to small weight loss. And this eating pattern could hold great promise for those trying to shed pounds, as participants found it to be a fairly easy program to adhere to (compared to counting calories or making major shifts in meal composition); they don’t feel like they’re starving.
- One study showed that breast cancer survivors who didn’t eat for at least 13 hours overnight had a significant reduction in the risk of recurrence.
- A small study of obese men with pre-diabetes who ate during an early 8-hour period of the day (7:00 am to 3:00 pm) resulted in lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as lower blood pressure.
- Fasting is an effective way to increase the diversity of gut microbes. The more diverse your gut microbes, the healthier your gut is, and the more supported your immune system (that’s because 70% – 80% of the cells that make up your body’s immune system are found in the gut).
How to Take Advantage of Time-Restricted Eating:
- Start the clock as soon as you eat food or ingest a non-water beverage (yes, coffee counts!).
- Stop eating no later than 12 hours afterwards. Shortening that stretch to 8 – 10 hours may even prove more effective.
- Do not eat after 7:00 – 8:00 pm.
- Fast for at least 13 hours before eating again.
- For example, start eating at 8:00 am; finish by 6:00 pm (a 10-hour period). Start eating no sooner than 7:00 am the following day.