Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

What is IF ?

Many of us were raised to believe that fasting is always unhealthy and dangerous. While it can be if done incorrectly, it turns out that intermittent fasting can actually have some pretty surprising health benefits. In fact, intermittent fasting is a health and weight loss method that has gained tremendous momentum and popularity in recent years. There’s good reason for this. According to the National Institute of Health, restricting calories five days a month, carefully spaced out, (that’s roughly once a week) when done carefully and safely, may provide a number of health benefits including longevity, lower glucose levels, lower insulin levels, greater bone density, and increased nerve development in the brain. The implications that diabetes might one day be managed with fasting is exciting. One clinical study conducted in 2007 showed that, with near-fasting every other day for two months, the asthma symptoms of nine overweight adults were alleviated. So were various signs of inflammation. Data from an NIH study supports the theory that eating small, nutritious meals that equal 34% to 54% of one’s normal calorie intake every few days can be a reasonably healthy way to lose weight.

The Science

The data explaining why intermittent fasting works is complicated, but the theory makes sense. In humankind’s earliest days, we probably weren’t eating three times a day at regular intervals. We were hunting and gathering our food, eating it as it became available to us. The scarcity of meat and edible plants was something that most humans likely faced with some regularity, and since we didn’t necessarily start out with the knowledge of how to store food, we probably weren’t packing a whole lot of groceries around with us as we pursued the herds of beasts that we were hunting. Life spans may not have been the greatest back then, but evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense that our bodies might do better with occasional fasting, simply because that’s what we were doing from the beginning.

Intermittent fasting won’t necessarily make you lose muscle either, even if you’re exercising on a fast day. Glucose is stored in your blood, muscles and liver. Sugar is the first thing that your body is going to look for when it needs energy. When you fast, you deplete your body’s supply of glucose and glycogen (stored sugar), and when there’s no quick glucose based energy to use up, your body has no choice but to pull energy from fat. If you save your fast day calories for immediately after your workout, the nutrients that you put into your body are going to be used very efficiently. Also, growth hormone production is dramatically increased during fasting, which means that your body is going to be in a great state for building muscle.

Disadvantages of Intermittent Fasting

The biggest concern that most people have when they first consider fasting is hunger. Understandably, people worry that they will feel hungry all the time, low on energy, and have poor concentration. This is definitely an issue at first, however due to an unusual chemical that your body produces called ghrelin, this doesn’t last forever. Eventually your body becomes trained to accept occasional fasting, and you might find that, due to metabolic increase, that you actually have more energy and mental clarity than you did before.

Science still has a long way to go before the safest and most efficient way for humans to benefit from fasting is entirely established, but the studies, information, and even anecdotal evidence that we have thus far is extremely promising. If we can treat just one health problem such as diabetes, obesity, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s – and studies point toward intermittent fasting as a potential treatment for all of these – using this method, then it will have been well worth the wait.