Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems.
Intermittent fasting (IF; reduced meal frequency) and caloric restriction (CR) extend lifespan and increase resistance to age-related diseases in rodents and monkeys and improve the health of overweight humans. Both IF and CR enhance cardiovascular and brain functions and improve several risk factors for coronary artery disease and stroke including a reduction in blood pressure and increased insulin sensitivity. Cardiovascular stress adaptation is improved and heart rate variability is increased in rodents maintained on an IF or a CR diet. Moreover, rodents maintained on an IF regimen exhibit increased resistance of heart and brain cells to ischemic injury in experimental models of myocardial infarction and stroke. The beneficial effects of IF and CR result from at least two mechanisms--reduced oxidative damage and increased cellular stress resistance. Recent findings suggest that some of the beneficial effects of IF on both the cardiovascular system and the brain are mediated by brain-derived neurotrophic factor signaling in the brain. Interestingly, cellular and molecular effects of IF and CR on the cardiovascular system and the brain are similar to those of regular physical exercise, suggesting shared mechanisms. A better understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which IF and CR affect the blood vessels and heart and brain cells will likely lead to novel preventative and therapeutic strategies for extending health span.