Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective

Annu Rev Nutr. 2005:25:237-60. doi: 10.1146/annurev.nutr.25.050304.092526.


The size and frequency of meals are fundamental aspects of nutrition that can have profound effects on the health and longevity of laboratory animals. In humans, excessive energy intake is associated with increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers and is a major cause of disability and death in industrialized countries. On the other hand, the influence of meal frequency on human health and longevity is unclear. Both caloric (energy) restriction (CR) and reduced meal frequency/intermittent fasting can suppress the development of various diseases and can increase life span in rodents by mechanisms involving reduced oxidative damage and increased stress resistance. Many of the beneficial effects of CR and fasting appear to be mediated by the nervous system. For example, intermittent fasting results in increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which increases the resistance of neurons in the brain to dysfunction and degeneration in animal models of neurodegenerative disorders; BDNF signaling may also mediate beneficial effects of intermittent fasting on glucose regulation and cardiovascular function. A better understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms by which meal size and frequency affect human health may lead to novel approaches for disease prevention and treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2
  • Diet
  • Energy Intake*
  • Food*
  • Health Promotion
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Longevity
  • Mental Disorders
  • Neoplasms
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Serotonin


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Serotonin