Throughout history, diet fads have come and gone. However, intermittent fasting has proven itself much more than just a diet fad. Looking back throughout humankind, it is evident that fasting has been part of life. We can see this when looking at hunters and gathers, and the lack of access many of our ancestors had to an abundance of food at their fingertips. Sometimes a necessity with no grocery store on every corner, or even for religious and spiritual reasons, fasting has existed for centuries. However, although you have most likely heard the term, you may ask yourself, is intermittent fasting healthy?
This article will dive into what the science says about this form of restrictive eating and its effect on your body.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a popular method of healthy eating. While many use it exclusively to lose weight, it also can provide plenty of health benefits.
Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating, not necessarily a diet. Although many pair IF with a healthy diet such as keto or paleo for the added benefits and quicker results. Intermittent fasting can make eating healthier much more accessible for those busy and on the go by reducing their calorie intake. This is one reason it has become a popular way to lose weight or take control of one's health.
Intermittent Fasting Methods
In a nutshell, Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating that implements restricting the amount of calories one eats in a time period by using one of the methods below:
Time-restricted method: Time-restricted intermittent fasting is one of the most popular methods. This is because many people find it the easiest one to implement. It involves breaking up the hours in your day into fasting hours and eating hours. The most popular fasting time is 16:8, where one fasts for 16 hours, eats for eight, and then fasts again. Some choose to try 18:6 or even 20:4, although they are more restrictive and challenging to stick to than 16:8.
Alternate day fasting: This method is another popular way to implement intermittent fasting. It involves eating naturally one day, fasting the next, and continuing to alternate between fasting and eating days. Some people choose to reduce the amount of calories to 500 or so on their fasting days instead of fasting completely. Either method can show results.
5:2 Method: Another take on this method is the 5:2. It involves eating normally five days a week and fasting for two days, either by limiting calories altogether or reducing them to 500.
Although there are different methods for using intermittent fasting, the objective is the same. Every method involves restricting calorie intake for a certain amount of time. Many studies point towards intermittent fasting having health benefits beyond losing weight.
Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?
Intermittent fasting is typically considered safe and can be a healthy way to lose weight. Since one of the side effects of intermittent fasting is hunger, it can be easy to eat an overabundance of food during the eating period; if this is done, intermittent fasting has minimal benefit.
However, if intermittent fasting is done right by restricting calorie intake during the fasting period and eating healthy foods during the eating periods, it can be very healthy.
While there are a few downsides, many studies point towards several health benefits. These studies are done in animals or short-term human studies. So, while they are promising, there needs to be more extensive studies done on humans.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting may have many health benefits when done correctly. Let's take a look at each one in depth below.
May Aid Digestive Health
Intermittent fasting may aid gut health by increasing beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus. Our gut plays a vital role in our health. There are good and bad bacteria; when the balance is off, there is a higher risk of adverse conditions. However, intermittent fasting helps microbiome change, increasing metabolism, and more.
Can Help With Weight Loss
One of the reasons that many people choose to implement intermittent fasting is the benefit of weight loss. Intermittent fasting naturally reduces the amount of calorie intake, leading to a possible loss in weight. It also can improve metabolism.
This is especially beneficial when it comes to losing visceral fat. Visceral fat is the hidden fat in our body that surrounds organs and may increase the risk of developing certain diseases.
Therefore, using intermittent fasting alongside healthy eating habits may aid in losing weight, benefiting overall health.
Intermittent Fasting May Improve Insulin Levels
Insulin regulates our blood sugar levels, and blood sugar spikes may lead to insulin resistance. This is when the pancreas makes more insulin to clear our bodies of sugar. However, our bodies do not know how to react to the insulin. While this is good in itself, sometimes our cells become resistant to this clearing out, leading to too much insulin in our bodies. When insulin resistance happens, it may lead to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart problems.
However, some studies point toward intermittent fasting improving insulin levels and reducing the risk of adverse health conditions.
There are contradicting studies, though. Some studies lean towards intermittent fasting improving insulin levels in men but harming blood sugar levels in women.
Increases Human Growth Hormone
The pituitary gland produces the human growth hormone. It regulates growth and metabolism, promoting muscle growth and lean body mass.
When using intermittent fasting, HGH may increase. In turn, metabolism speeds up, and the risk of some diseases will decrease since low amounts of HGH can increase the chance of certain diseases.
Intermittent Fasting Aids in Cell Repair
Intermittent fasting aids in repairing cells. This is done by inducing autophagy.
Autophagy stresses cells, forcing them to use natural resources to survive. Think of it as the cell being deprived of nutrients or outside resources and having to use what it has; therefore, it “eats itself.”
The cells recycle the damaged and deficient cells that do not work correctly to become more efficient. During autophagy, bad protein in the cells is removed, and cells learn to adapt even more to stress. This is especially beneficial because when cells undergo repair, they begin to work correctly and more efficiently.
May Reduce Inflammation
In our cells are antioxidant defenses and free radicals. They are both beneficial to our overall health. However, they can become unbalanced. When this happens, the free radicals can damage our cells. This is called oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress happens when the free radicals become reactive to other molecules within our bodies. If unbalanced the free radical can take an electron from another DNA strand and damage it.
If this happens, inflammation and other diseases may occur. However, Intermittent fasting can reduce the inflammation that may lead to oxidative stress.
Intermittent Fasting Could be Good for Your Heart
Bad cholesterol, or LDL, can also lead to inflammation, insulin resistance, and more. These specifics can increase the chance of heart disease. However, intermittent fasting may reduce LDL effects on our bodies.
May Support Brain Health and More
Additionally, some studies point towards intermittent fasting possibly reducing the chances of Alzheimer's disease. They also lean towards intermittent fasting possibly helping to protect brain health, reducing cancer risk, and having anti-aging benefits.
Cons of Intermittent Fasting
With all the benefits of intermittent fasting, it is also essential to consider the downsides. Below are a few of the cons of intermittent fasting.
May Come With Side Effects
Intermittent fasting may bring adverse side effects, making pushing through the fasting stages harder, especially during the first few days. These side effects include:
- Lack of concentration
Typically, side effects fade with time. However, it is vital to keep note of side effects and stop Intermittent fasting if they become too much. Also, always undergo new diet changes under the supervision of your doctor.
Isn't Always Easy to Follow
Intermittent fasting can be challenging. Some people find it easy to skip meals. Yet, others may find it hard to ignore the hunger pangs.
One way to combat hunger is to stay hydrated by drinking tea, coffee, or water.
Additionally, take it easy when beginning intermittent fasting and try not to exercise too strenuously.
Intermittent Fasting is Not Safe For Some People
While intermittent fasting is relatively healthy and safe for many people, it is not for everyone.
Some people should not fast. These include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children, those on certain medications, or those who are underweight or have a history of eating disorders.
It is essential to consult a doctor before undergoing any form of fasting.
Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting Safely
There are a few factors to keep in mind before starting intermittent fasting. You want to be sure to do it as safely as possible. Therefore, as stated before, talk to your doctor first.
Then, take it slow and easy, easing into the fasting schedule you have decided upon.
Additionally, trying different methods before settling for the right one for you can be beneficial.
Although exercising can be done while intermittent fasting, many recommend doing it on non-fasting days.
Also, for the best results, eat healthy meals along with intermittent fasting, avoid overeating during nonfast periods, and remember to stay hydrated!
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Julia Mikhaylova/Shutterstock.com.