Intermittent fasting and health outcomes: an umbrella review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials


  • M.L. Sun
  • W. Yao
  • X.Y. Wang
  • S. Gao
  • K.A. Varady
  • S.K. Forslund
  • M. Zhang
  • Z.Y. Shi
  • F. Cao
  • B.J. Zou
  • M.H. Sun
  • K.X. Liu
  • Q. Bao
  • J. Xu
  • X. Qin
  • Q. Xiao
  • L. Wu
  • Y.H. Zhao
  • D.Y. Zhang
  • Q.J. Wu
  • T.T Gong


  • EClinicalMedicine


  • EClinicalMedicine 70: 102519


  • BACKGROUND: Benefits of Intermittent fasting (IF) on health-related outcomes have been found in a range of randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Our umbrella review aimed to systematically analyze and synthesize the available causal evidence on IF and its impact on specific health-related outcomes while evaluating its evidence quality. METHODS: We comprehensively searched the PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and Cochrane databases (from inception up to 8 January 2024) to identify related systematic reviews and meta-analyses of RCTs investigating the association between IF and human health outcomes. We recalculated the effect sizes for each meta-analysis as mean difference (MD) or standardized mean difference (SMD) with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Subgroup analyses were performed for populations based on three specific status: diabetes, overweight or obesity, and metabolic syndrome. The quality of systematic reviews was evaluated using A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR), and the certainty of evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations (GRADE) system. This study is registered with PROSPERO (CRD42023382004). FINDINGS: A total of 351 associations from 23 meta-analyses with 34 health outcomes were included in the study. A wide range of outcomes were investigated, including anthropometric measures (n = 155), lipid profiles (n = 83), glycemic profiles (n = 57), circulatory system index (n = 41), appetite (n = 9), and others (n = 6). Twenty-one (91%) meta-analyses with 346 associations were rated as high confidence according to the AMSTAR criteria. The summary effects estimates were significant at p < 0.05 in 103 associations, of which 10 (10%) were supported by high certainty of evidence according to GRADE. Specifically, compared with non-intervention diet in adults with overweight or obesity, IF reduced waist circumference (WC) (MD = -1.02 cm; 95% CI: -1.99 to -0.06; p = 0.038), fat mass (MD = -0.72 kg; 95% CI: -1.32 to -0.12; p = 0.019), fasting insulin (SMD = -0.21; 95% CI: -0.40 to -0.02; p = 0.030), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) (SMD = -0.20; 95% CI: -0.38 to -0.02; p = 0.027), total cholesterol (TC) (SMD = -0.29; 95% CI: -0.48 to -0.10; p = 0.003), and triacylglycerols (TG) (SMD = -0.23; 95% CI: -0.39 to -0.06; p = 0.007), but increased fat free mass (FFM) (MD = 0.98 kg; 95% CI: 0.18–1.78; p = 0.016). Of note, compared with the non-intervention diet, modified alternate-day fasting (MADF) reduced fat mass (MD = -0.70 kg; 95% CI: -1.38 to -0.02; p = 0.044). In people with overweight or obesity, and type 2 diabetes, IF increases high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) levels compared to continuous energy restriction (CER) (MD = 0.03 mmol/L; 95% CI: 0.01–0.05; p = 0.010). However, IF was less effective at reducing systolic blood pressure (SBP) than a CER diet in adults with overweight or obesity (SMD = 0.21; 95% CI: 0.05–0.36; p = 0.008). INTERPRETATION: Our findings suggest that IF may have beneficial effects on a range of health outcomes for adults with overweight or obesity, compared to CER or non-intervention diet. Specifically, IF may decreased WC, fat mass, LDL-C, TG, TC, fasting insulin, and SBP, while increasing HDL-C and FFM. Notably, it is worth noting that the SBP lowering effect of IF appears to be weaker than that of CER.