Could Intermittent Energy Restriction and Intermittent Fasting Reduce Rates of Cancer in Obese, Overweight, and Normal-Weight Subjects? A Summary of Evidence

Adv Nutr. 2016 Jul 15;7(4):690-705. doi: 10.3945/an.115.011767. Print 2016 Jul.


Animal studies and human observational data link energy restriction (ER) to reduced rates of carcinogenesis. Most of these studies have involved continuous energy restriction (CER), but there is increasing public and scientific interest in the potential health and anticancer effects of intermittent energy restriction (IER) or intermittent fasting (IF), which comprise periods of marked ER or total fasting interspersed with periods of normal eating. This review summarizes animal studies that assessed tumor rates with IER and IF compared with CER or ad libitum feed consumption. The relevance of these animal data to human cancer is also considered by summarizing available human studies of the effects of IER or IF compared with CER on cancer biomarkers in obese, overweight, and normal-weight subjects. IER regimens that include periods of ER alternating with ad libitum feed consumption for 1, 2, or 3 wk have been reported to be superior to CER in reducing tumor rates in most spontaneous mice tumor models. Limited human data from short-term studies (≤6 mo) in overweight and obese subjects have shown that IER can lead to greater improvements in insulin sensitivity (homeostasis model assessment) than can CER, with comparable reductions in adipokines and inflammatory markers and minor changes in the insulin-like growth factor axis. There are currently no data comparing IER or IF with CER in normal-weight subjects. The benefits of IER in these short-term trials are of interest, but not sufficient evidence to recommend the use of IER above CER. Longer-term human studies of adherence to and efficacy and safety of IER are required in obese and overweight subjects, as well as normal-weight subjects.

Keywords: cancer; intermittent energy restriction; intermittent fasting; normal weight; obese.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipokines / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Diet, Reducing*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Fasting*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Obesity* / complications
  • Obesity* / metabolism
  • Overweight
  • Somatomedins / metabolism


  • Adipokines
  • Insulin
  • Somatomedins