Tag Archives: Intermittent Fasting

Can Intermittent Fasting Improve Health?

IntermittentFastingJacquie Eubanks RN BSN

What we eat, when we eat and the amount we eat are key factors that directly affect weight and lifespan, as well as age-related disease risk. Fasting, whether intermittent or prolonged, involves abstinence from all foods, but not water, for a set period of time. While most studies on fasting involve animals, not humans, a growing body of research suggests that intermittent fasting (IF) is an effective and sustainable approach for weight loss, improved markers of health and disease prevention. While some may find it difficult to fast, approaches range from relatively easy to challenging. Research shows IF is a safe and healthy dietary approach, as long as one consumes a largely plant-based whole food diet, skips ultraprocessed foods and forgoes snacking during the eating window.

An animal study published in the journal Cell Metabolism suggests that periodic fasting (PF) lasting two days or more, but separated by at least a week of normal eating, is emerging as a highly effective strategy to protect normal cells and organs from aging, as well as from a variety of toxins, while increasing the demise of many types of cancer cells. The study showed that PF resulted in a decrease in blood glucose, insulin and insulin-like growth factor. As well, pathological analysis showed reduced tissue and organ inflammation, which is key to the prevention of many age-related diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s.

Intermittent fasting has no standard duration and exists for the period of time one chooses to voluntarily forgo food for spiritual or health reasons. In actuality, we all fast for some part of each day when we don’t eat between meals and while sleeping each night. Learning to fast properly can result in weight loss, including a reduction in hard to eliminate visceral fat, as well as improved insulin sensitivity and lowered blood sugar and insulin levels. IF should not be considered for those who are underweight, pregnant or breastfeeding, or may have an eating disorder. IF may be most helpful for those who are overweight or obese.

Periodic fasting has been utilized traditionally for centuries. Often called cleanses or detoxes, a period of food abstinence is expected to rejuvenate the body, give internal organs a well-deserved rest and eliminate harmful toxic substances. In addition, IF in combination with an active healthy lifestyle may prevent and possibly reverse type 2 diabetes; improve blood cholesterol profile; enhance mental clarity and concentration; increase energy; reduce inflammation and risk the of certain diseases; and encourage a longer, heathier lifespan.

When we eat constantly throughout the day, the liver must convert surplus calories to glycogen, which is stored in the muscles, and to fat, most of which is stored in the liver and around our midsection. While there is limited storage space for glycogen, there is no limit to the amount of fat that can be created and stored. While our bodies are in the fed state, insulin levels are high and we are storing food energy. In the fasting state, insulin levels are lower and we are decreasing energy stores. Reduced caloric consumption simply allows the body to burn stored energy, as well as excess body fat. Ideally, when eating and fasting is balanced we should be burning the calories we consume and there should be no weight loss or gain.

There are several ways to take advantage of IF for improved health and weight maintenance.

  • Some prefer to consume two to three meals within an eight hour window and fast for the remaining 16 hours. This type of short fast appears to be the easiest for most people to follow and can generally be utilized on a daily basis if one is so inclined.
  • Longer fasts of 20 to 24 hours may be harder to adhere to but can be done several times weekly. One major advantage of the 24-hour fast is that it is particularly easy during a workday. One can fast after dinner on day one, have coffee or tea in the morning, skip breakfast, and then fast until dinnertime on day two.
  • The 5:2 fast, in which one limits caloric intake to 500 calories twice weekly and eats normally the other five days, appears to have the most scientific support.
  • Similar to the 5:2 but perhaps more difficult to follow, caloric intake is limited to 500 calories every other day. Although more intense, this fasting diet is also backed by scientific research.
  • While most beneficial for weight loss, a 36-hour fast involves beginning a fast after dinner on day one, fasting throughout day two and ending the fast with breakfast on day three. Longer fasts are not recommended unless under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.
  • Studies done on IF have found that even as body weight steadily decreases, lean body mass or muscle loss does not. Even so, daily exercise along with IF is highly recommended.

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A Periodic Diet That Mimics Fasting Promotes Multi-System Regeneration, Enhanced Cognitive Performance, and Healthspan. https://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/fulltext/S1550-4131(15)00224-7
Intermittent fasting: Surprising update. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323605.php
Systemic inflammation and disease progression in Alzheimer disease. https://n.neurology.org/content/73/10/768.short


The Surprising Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent FastingSusan Brown Health and Wellness Editor

It’s hard to remember a time when dieting wasn’t a fact of life for so many, but did you know that the concept of dieting for health reasons dates from ancient Greece? Diata was a word used to describe a way of living that would have included a dietary regimen, as well as other daily habits. During the middle ages, “diets” that commonly involved fasts, as well as confinement, were generally advised by physicians. Today, of course, diet is associated with a way of purposeful eating specifically for weight loss. Perhaps the old adage, “everything old is new again,” could apply to the current trend of intermittent fasting to achieve optimal weight. It appears that the ancient Greek physicians’ intuitions about the relationship between fasting and health were actually spot on.

While there are many effective ways to drop pounds, dieting for weight loss takes determination and dedication, as well as commitment to a long-term healthy eating plan combined with an active lifestyle. Many diets fail because slow and incremental weight loss often leaves one feeling “hangry,” or hungry, cranky, deprived and dissatisfied. But, what about an eating plan that can assist weight loss and at the same time improve metabolic health, without hunger? While most are aware that proper weight maintenance supports overall wellbeing and long-term health, how many know that short-term fasting can lead not only to weight loss, but also to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels.

Of course, food quality is crucial while on an intermittent fasting plan. As with all reduction diets, a healthy whole food eating plan is necessary when the goal is to lose weight and improve health. Done correctly, intermittent fasting should help to manage weight, improve sleep, increase energy levels, elevate mood and improve cognitive performance.

There are several strategies for incorporating intermittent fasting:

  • Perhaps the easiest route is to limit food intake to an eight-hour window each day. This requires no calorie restriction; however diet improvements are likely necessary. The strategy takes a two meal a day approach and nothing is eaten after dinner, as nighttime eating is well associated with a higher risk of obesity. Those who already skip breakfast may find this an effortless way to lose weight, as long as healthy foods are consumed during the eating hours. This plan can help with weight loss without leaving one feeling hungry or deprived.
  • The 5:2 diet limits caloric intake to 500 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week. On the other days, a healthy diet of 2,000 calories per day for women and 2,500 for men is consumed. This method may be more sustainable for long-term weight management, as long as one can handle the light eating days.
  • Some choose the alternate day fasting method, which allows only 500 calories every other day. This is likely too restrictive and unsustainable long-term for most people.
  • Basically effortless, but not the most effective for weight loss, spontaneous meal skipping is the least structured plan where meals are skipped from time to time, especially when one is not that hungry.
  • Fasting one to two days a week for a 24-hour period, which, for some, may be the most difficult to accomplish. It does appear, however, that longer fasts provide greater health benefits.
  • Studies have found that people on fasting plans tend to lose more weight than those who cut daily calories. The drop out rate appears lower for those who fast on some days but eat normally on others, as people find day to day caloric reduction difficult.

As long as one sticks with the plan and doesn’t snack, insulin levels will drop between meals. This stimulates fat cells to release stored glycogen that the body then utilizes for energy, thereby reducing adipose tissue mass. Nutritional stress, in part, results in cellular level repairs, functional optimization and metabolic rejuvenation. Researchers who study intermittent fasting have found good evidence that fasting does encourage weight loss and may also reduce inflammation, as well as lower blood pressure and resting heart rate, benefitting cardiovascular health by reducing cardiovascular risk factors.

Published research of randomized, controlled clinical trials suggests that caloric restriction, such as intermittent fasting, results in energy deprivation that dramatically improves metabolic health, as well as other physiological and molecular markers of health and longevity. Another study found that just changing the timing of meals, eating dinner earlier and extending the overnight fast, significantly benefitted metabolism even in people who didn’t lose weight. While more research is needed, especially for higher-risk individuals, generally healthy but overweight persons should check in with their healthcare practitioner before embarking on any restricted calorie eating plan.

To recap, try the simplest form of intermittent fasting by limiting the eating window to no more than 8 hours, eat a healthy whole food diet, be active throughout the day, and avoid snacking or eating at nighttime.

What is the origin of the Word Diet? https://culinarylore.com/food-history:origin-of-the-word-diet/
Health effects of intermittent fasting: hormesis or harm? A systematic review. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/32d3/6a075b700b9115dc904446e3a1d06e5548ba.pdf
Intermittent fasting: Surprising update. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156