Who would have thought that not eating every now and then might actually be healthy? There’s actually a lot of research out there saying that might just be a fact.
Research has been looking at intermittent fasting (which is basically a cyclical pattern of eating where you alternate between eating and fasting) to determine what the health benefits could be.
Fasting, this might sound jarring or dramatic to some, was actually a very common eating pattern for humans in the past. Eating 3 to 4 consistent meals throughout the day, is actually a more recent eating pattern that humans developed when resources were no longer scarce, processed foods became readily available, electricity allowed us to store food in refrigerators, and there was no longer a need to eat “in season” or hunt/scavenge for food.
So far, the studies have found loads of benefits to adopting this eating pattern. Check out some of the top 9 below to see how it can improve your health.
1. It changes cell, gene, and hormone functioning — in a good way.
Fasting triggers a multitude of bodily responses; mainly, your body goes into repair mode and alters hormone production so that your stored body fat is more easily accessed for energy.
Significant changes are made during this repair mode, including:
- Insulin and blood levels lower
- Cellular repair processes initiate eliminating waste from cells (called autophagy)
- Growth hormone levels increase
- Genes related to disease prevention and longevity make valuable modifications
2. It can Help You Lose Weight.
That increase in growth hormones, insulin drop, and the increased amount of norepinephrine that your body produces all contribute to weight loss by making it easier for your body to break down and burn body fat and gain muscle.
Through all of these processes, intermittent fasting actually increases your metabolic rate making it easier for you to burn calories. On top of that, it’s likely that the amount of calories you consume will decrease.
And the best part of it? All of this is working to tackle that much hated belly fat that seems impossible to shed.
3. It can lower your risk of diabetes.
That reduction in insulin production has another benefit, a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Multiple studies showed that intermittent fasting decreased insulin resistance and blood sugar levels in men and studies on diabetic rats showed prevention against kidney damage. All of these benefits pointing towards a decreased risk in type 2 diabetes and the complications related to it.
4. It can lower your risk of chronic disease.
Inflammation is a huge common denominator in causes of chronic diseases. Luckily, in multiple research studies, intermittent fasting is linked to fighting inflammation.
Another component where fasting helps and that is linked to the development of multiple chronic diseases is oxidative stress — which is basically when your body is producing too many free radicals, or highly reactive cells, and your body is unable to counteract them. Intermittent fasting helps here by increasing resistance to oxidative stress and therefore reducing damage.
5. It’s heart healthy.
It looks like adding in some occasional fasting can keep your ticker in good health. It’s been shown to improve blood pressure, total cholesterol levels, and lower levels of LDL, triglycerides, and blood sugar.
Many of these research conclusions are based on animal studies so there’s still some work to be done on humans to determine if guidelines or recommendations should be made.
6. It may prevent cancer.
Here’s another one that may need more research, but current results are looking promising.
Some studies have linked intermittent fasting to cancer prevention and a reduction in side effects from chemotherapy.
7. It’s good for your brain.
While fasting too much is not good for brain function, intermittent fasting is! That reduction in oxidative stress (see # 4), insulin resistance, and decrease in blood sugar and inflammation is all great for brain health!
Multiple research has linked intermittent fasting to new production of nerve cells and an increase in an essential brain hormone brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDFN). A deficiency in BDFN has been associated with numerous brain diseases and issues, so increases in this hormone are extremely beneficial for prevention.
8. It helps prevent Alzheimer’s.
Research focusing on Alzheimer’s and intermittent fasting is showing that it might decrease the severity and delay the development of Alzheimer’s as well as improve symptoms.
Although research still needs to be done on human subjects, there is some evidence from animal studies that intermittent fasting might prevent other diseases that result in neural degeneration such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.
9. It’s good for longevity.
Multiple studies with rats show that fasting can increase lifespan. In fact, in one study, rats who fasted every other day actually lived 83% longer. Again, research on its effects in humans is still needed, but current research is promising.
Additionally, the combination of prevention for disease and cancers and its contribution to a healthy heart and weight loss makes it pretty clear why it would extend your life
If you’re interested in incorporating intermittent fasting as your eating pattern, check out these tips to get started.
- The best part about intermittent fasting is that it doesn’t have to follow a specific structure or plan. So you can do it when it works for you.
- Start off slowly by fasting when it’s the most convenient for you. This could be when you’re already not feeling hungry for breakfast/lunch/dinner, or it could simply be a time when you don’t have time to cook.
- If you’re one who needs structure, you can try following these other options to get started:
- fast for 16 hours each day
- fast for 2 days each week
- fast for 24 hours once a week
- fast every other day
- fast during the day and eat a large meal for dinner
All of these are options to get started, but remember to choose whatever method is right for you. Everyone’s individual dietary needs will vary so you might check in with your health care provider to determine which method would work best for you.