The benefits of intermittent fasting go way beyond weight loss. One of the most notable is the fact that fasting can help to improve your overall health and promote healthy aging. Let’s discuss.
Helps kick off cellular repair processes
When you fast, your body is able to rid itself of any waste. This allows your organs to function more efficiently, which gives your immune system a chance to rebuild and become stronger. Intermittent fasting triggers autophagy (the process by which your cells clean up and get rid of any old or damaged parts). So, in addition to priming the immune system, fasting-induced autophagy can also improve cellular resistance to stress and protect cells from damage.
In one recent study, researchers found that COVID-19 patients who committed to regular water-only fasting had a lower risk of hospitalization or death due to the virus than those who didn't.
Can improve insulin resistance, lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes
After you finish digesting your food, one of your liver's most important jobs is to regulate energy in your body. It does this by burning fat and balancing blood sugar, as well as storing precious energy as glycogen (a form of glucose).
A few hours after eating, your insulin levels begin to decrease significantly. But if you continue to eat every two to three hours, you’re creating a constant demand for more and more. When your body becomes resistant to insulin, it doesn't effectively process glucose, leading to high blood sugar levels (type 2 diabetes). It’s also been found that frequent eating can confuse your liver and signal it to release stored sugar, even when your blood sugar is already high. Talk about a vicious cycle.
By improving insulin resistance, intermittent fasting can help lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. This is most likely because fasting gives the body a much-needed break and the chance to burn through its glycogen stores. When glycogen stores are depleted, blood sugar levels fall. In one study, fasting blood sugar was reduced by 3-6% and fasting insulin levels dropped by 20-31% over the course of 8-12 weeks.
May be beneficial for heart health
Intermittent fasting can be a great tool to improve your heart health. When you fast, your body is able to burn through stored fat for energy, which can help to lower cholesterol levels and improve blood sugar control. This method has been shown to positively impact obesity, hypertension, and diabetes—all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
A recent study of prediabetic men showed a reduction of systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure after 5-weeks of fasting for 18-hour periods.
In another 2020 study, intermittent fasting helped women with metabolic syndrome. This is a group of symptoms including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess abdominal fat — that raises the risk of heart conditions. When these women restricted their food intake to a 10-hour window during the day, they experienced weight loss, lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol, and fewer blood sugar spikes.
Can improve digestion and poor gut health symptoms
Cycling between periods of fasting and eating allows the digestive system time to rest and repair itself. This means that any digestive issues you may be experiencing can be given a chance to improve. Intermittent fasting also helps reset the body's natural balance of good and bad bacteria, promoting better overall gut health.
Overtime, IF results in improved gut motility, increased nutrient absorption, and reduced inflammation. This is especially important since inflammation is a major contributor to many digestive disorders.
May boost brain health and protect against cognitive decline
Intermittent fasting has been shown to have a number of benefits for brain health, including improved cognitive function, decreased inflammation, and increased protection from neurodegenerative diseases.
The body normally uses glucose for energy, but during IF it switches to using fatty acids and ketones - a change known as metabolic switching. But ketosis is not just about fat burning. Ketones also convert glutamate, the most abundant excitatory nervous system neurotransmitter - to GABA, which helps the brain focus. GABA promotes relaxation and helps balance glutamate which makes up 90% of the brain’s synaptic connections.
Cognitive function may be further improved through autophagy, the stage during which the body clears out damaged cells and recycles their nutrients for use by healthy cells. This process has been linked with improved memory and learning.
Emerging research continues to show how intermittent fasting can stimulate cognitive function by promoting cell repair and helping your brain form new cells and connections. Many people who regularly fast report improved mood and increased clarity of thought, which can in turn benefit your overall happiness.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t fast?
For most people, intermittent fasting is a safe choice. But certain groups should avoid it altogether, including:
- Those under 18 years of age
- People with high blood pressure
- People with kidney disorders
- Those with Type 1 diabetes
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Anyone who is underweight
- Anyone who has a history of eating disorders
- Certain medications
As with any lifestyle change, check with your healthcare provider if you’re not sure that fasting is right for you.
What Are the Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting?
There are a few potential side effects of intermittent fasting that you should be aware of before starting. Common symptoms include:
- Brain fog
- Muscle aches
- Hunger & cravings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Flu-like symptoms
These side effects are usually temporary and will go away as your body adjusts to the new eating pattern. Be sure to listen to your body and make changes as needed. If you're thinking about trying intermittent fasting, it's important to consult with your healthcare provider first to make sure it's safe for you.
Find Out Your Somatotype
Start building your own intermittent fasting plan with this short quiz to determine your somatotype and the type of fast that works best for your body: