Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting.
Numerous studies show that it can have powerful benefits for your body and brain.
Here are 10 evidence-based health benefits of intermittent fasting.
1. Intermittent Fasting Changes The Function of Cells, Genes and Hormones
Here are some of the changes that occur in your body during fasting:
- Insulin levels: Blood levels of insulin drop significantly, which facilitates fat burning.
- Human growth hormone: The blood levels of growth hormone may increase as much as 5-fold. Higher levels of this hormone facilitate fat burning and muscle gain, and have numerous other benefits.
- Cellular repair: The body induces important cellular repair processes, such as removing waste material from cells.
- Gene expression: There are beneficial changes in several genes and molecules related to longevity and protection against disease.
2. Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Lose Weight and Belly Fat
Many of those who try intermittent fasting are doing it in order to lose weight.
Generally speaking, intermittent fasting will make you eat fewer meals.
Unless you compensate by eating much more during the other meals, you will end up taking in fewer calories.
Additionally, intermittent fasting enhances hormone function to facilitate weight loss.
Intermittent fasting works on both sides of the calorie equation. It boosts your metabolic rate (increases calories out) and reduces the amount of food you eat (reduces calories in).
According to a 2014 review of the scientific literature, intermittent fasting can cause weight loss of 3-8% over 3-24 weeks. This is a huge amount.
The people also lost 4-7% of their waist circumference, which indicates that they lost lots of belly fat, the harmful fat in the abdominal cavity that causes disease.
One review study also showed that intermittent fasting caused less muscle loss than continuous calorie restriction.
All things considered, intermittent fasting can be an incredibly powerful weight loss tool.
3. Intermittent Fasting Can Reduce Insulin Resistance, Lowering Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Anything that reduces insulin resistance should help lower blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes.
Interestingly, intermittent fasting has been shown to have major benefits for insulin resistance and fasting blood sugar has been reduced by 3-6%, while fasting insulin has been reduced by 20-31% (12).
What this implies, is that intermittent fasting may be highly protective for people who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
4. Intermittent Fasting Can Reduce Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in The Body
It involves unstable molecules called free radicals, which react with other important molecules (like protein and DNA) and damage them).
Several studies show that intermittent fasting may enhance the body’s resistance to oxidative stress.
Additionally, studies show that intermittent fasting can help fight inflammation, another key driver of all sorts of common diseases.
5. Intermittent Fasting May be Beneficial For Heart Health
Heart disease is currently the world’s biggest killer.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve numerous different risk factors, including blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers and blood sugar levels.
6. Intermittent Fasting Induces Various Cellular Repair Processes
When we fast, the cells in the body initiate a cellular “waste removal” process – triggers a metabolic pathway – which may provide protection against several diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease .
7. Intermittent Fasting May Help Prevent Cancer
Fasting has been shown to have several beneficial effects on metabolism that may lead to reduced risk of cancer.
There is also some evidence on human cancer patients, showing that fasting reduced various side effects of chemotherapy .
8. Intermittent Fasting is Good For Your Brain
What is good for the body is often good for the brain as well.
Intermittent fasting improves various metabolic features known to be important for brain health.
This includes reduced oxidative stress, reduced inflammation and a reduction in blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. It also increases levels of a brain hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a deficiency of which has been implicated in depression and various other brain problems.
Animal studies have also shown that intermittent fasting protects against brain damage due to strokes.
9. Intermittent Fasting May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the world’s most common neurodegenerative disease.
There is no cure available for Alzheimer’s, so preventing it from showing up in the first place is critical.
In a series of case reports, a lifestyle intervention that included daily short-term fasts was able to significantly improve Alzheimer’s symptoms in 9 out of 10 patients.
10. Intermittent Fasting May Extend Your Lifespan, Helping You Live Longer
One of the most exciting applications of intermittent fasting may be its ability to extend lifespan.
Studies in rats have shown that intermittent fasting extends lifespan in a similar way as continuous calorie restriction. In some of these studies, the effects were quite dramatic. In one of them, rats that fasted every other day lived 83% longer than rats who weren’t fasted.
Although this is far from being proven in humans, intermittent fasting has become very popular among the anti-aging crowd. Given the known benefits for metabolism and all sorts of health markers, it makes sense that intermittent fasting could help you live a longer and healthier life.
I tried Intermittent fasting, with a lot of trepidation, since earlier delayed meals would end up with ‘hypoglycemic headaches’. Once I understood the science that the body maintains the blood sugar level, does not allow it to drop, I was okay. (Which implies that the headaches were due to the psychological impact?) Now both my husband and I are able to go 16 to 20 hours without eating. And no, we don’t gorge after. No headaches either.
We’re happy to report a 14/ 7 kg weight loss respectively, and 7″ decrease in waist circumference!! Yay! We’re able to get into clothes we couldn’t earlier. Motivation enough.
Next we’re planning a 3 day fast, with only tea and water. Plus supplemental vitamins.
Stay tuned for updates!
Update on 27/10/15 : We have lost 20/11 kg respectively. About the 3 day fast: Husband managed 3 days (yay!!) but I chickened out after day 1. Its a mental, emotional fear which I need to overcome. However, any little bit is good!
Simple steps to Stay Healthy.
By Kris Gunnars