News flash! Fasting isn’t only meant for Ramadan! Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. There are many different types of intermittent fasting, such as the 16/8 (you fast 16 hours per day and have an 8-hour window to eat your meals, like from 12PM to 8PM) or 5:2 methods (eat regularly five days a week, and lower calorie-consumption to 500 calories two days a week). Numerous studies show that it can have powerful benefits for your body and brain. Here are 10 evidence-based benefits of intermittent fasting.
- Changes the Function of Cells, Genes and Hormones
When you fast, insulin levels drop and human growth hormone increases. Your cells also initiate important cellular repair processes and change which genes they express. Many of the benefits of intermittent fasting are related to these changes in hormones, gene expression and function of cells.
- Helps You Lose Weight and Belly Fat
Intermittent fasting helps you eat fewer calories, while boosting metabolism slightly. It is a very effective tool to lose weight and belly fat. 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. Lower insulin levels, higher growth hormone levels and increased amounts of norepinephrine (noradrenaline) all increase the breakdown of body fat and facilitate its use for energy. In other words, 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). One 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.
- Reduces Insulin Resistance, Lowering Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes has become incredibly common in recent decades. Its main feature is high blood sugar levels in the context of insulin resistance. 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 lead to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels. In human studies on intermittent fasting, fasting blood sugar has been reduced by 3-6%, while fasting insulin has been reduced by 20-31%.
- Reduces Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in the Body
Oxidative stress is one of the steps towards aging and many chronic diseases. It involves unstable molecules called free radicals, which react with other important molecules (like protein and DNA) and damage them. Studies show that intermittent fasting can reduce oxidative damage and inflammation in the body. This should have benefits against aging and development of numerous diseases.
- Beneficial For Heart Health
Heart disease is currently the world’s biggest killer. Studies show that intermittent fasting can improve numerous risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides and inflammatory markers. Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve numerous different risk factors for heart disease, including blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers and blood sugar levels.
- Induces Various Cellular Repair Processes
Fasting triggers a metabolic pathway called autophagy, which removes waste material from cells. This involves the cells breaking down and metabolizing broken and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells over time. Increased autophagy may provide protection against several diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease
- Helps Prevent Cancer
Cancer is a terrible disease, characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells. Intermittent fasting has been shown to help prevent cancer in animal studies. One paper in humans showed that it can reduce side effects caused by chemotherapy. Although human studies are needed, promising evidence from animal studies indicates that intermittent fasting may help prevent cancer.
- Good For Your Brain
What is good for the body is often good for the brain as well. Intermittent fasting may have important benefits for brain health. It may increase growth of new neurons and protect the brain from damage. This includes reduced oxidative stress, reduced inflammation and a reduction in blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.Several studies in rats have shown that intermittent fasting may increase the growth of new nerve cells, which should have benefits for brain function
- Helps Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the world’s most common neurodegenerative disease. Studies in animals suggest that intermittent fasting may be protective against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s 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.
- Extends Your Lifespan
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, and in one case, 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.