Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting is a pattern of eating that alternates between periods of fasting and non-fasting. There are many benefits to intermittent fasting, including autophagy, appetite control, lowered insulin sensitivity and lowered blood pressure. Results can be seen within a few days to a few weeks. It is important, however, to remember that proper nutrition and hydration are critical when doing an intermittent fast. Calorie-free drinks can be consumed at any time during the day or night, so make sure that you do.
When we are young, our cells break down, repair themselves and regenerate constantly, but the process can go awry as we get older. As we age, free radicals (highly reactive byproducts of cellular respiration) begin to break down our cells. Mitochondria, the organelles that are responsible for providing us with energy are most vulnerable to free radical damage. If damaged mitochondria are not removed, they pump out toxic proteins that cause the entire cell to die and this result in the aging process.
We can help restart cellular growth and regeneration with fasting-induced autophagy. Autophagy is the process where cells recycle waste and repair themselves properly. It is like a “spring cleaning” on the cellular level and helps destroy microbes, viruses and bacteria while helping to regulate our immune system to fight off future infections. Autophagy has been linked to a reduction in cancer, insulin resistance, infection, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases (like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases) and inflammation.
Researchers are attempting to create a pharmaceutical method to stimulate autophagy, but we don’t need to wait for that because we know intermittent fasting stimulates natural autophagy. You can help your body even more by eating unprocessed foods as much as possible during your non-feasting times.
Another benefit of Intermittent Fasting is natural appetite control. It takes your body between 6 and 8 hours to metabolize the glycogen stored in your liver. After that, your body shifts to burning fat and using ketones for energy. If you eat more frequently than that, then your body has an ample supply of carbohydrates to keep your glycogen stores up.
When you fast, your body burns fat which makes your liver produce ketones. Ketones are (fill in here) and can be used for energy. Your body becomes more adapted to functioning in this state of ketosis over time. One interesting point about ketones is that they are the only fuel besides glucose that the brain can use.
When your body uses ketones for fuel, your blood glucose level is on the low end of normal and so you do not have much insulin in your blood either. This keeps you from feeling overly hungry. You will still want to eat but you will experience fewer cravings and intense need to “eat something, anything, right now!” People report better muscle function while in ketosis, and that will prompt you to exercise more as well.
In order to reap these benefits, you need to eat a low carb diet as well. If you fast for 16 hours and then eat ice cream for 8, you won’t lose any weight. It can be easy to eat your way out of ketosis. Just one medium to large serving of carbohydrates can alter your blood chemistry enough that you are back to fueling yourself with glucose and not ketones.
Hunger is a natural part of the human experience and cannot be fully suppressed. It can be an insurmountable challenge for some people to spend any great length of time on a restricted calorie diet. The good news is that almost all the benefits of calorie restriction can be gained through intermittent fasting.
Keeping blood sugar in a healthy range is important to stave off insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, artherosclerosis and Alzherimer’s disease. Eating every few hours keeps blood sugar and insulin levels, and therefore hunger levels, at a higher level than spacing meals out more. Intermittent Fasting gives your blood chemistry a chance to hum along without insulin levels going up or down and this normalizes insulin sensitivity which means your body will not fall so easily into the overindulging/high insulin level trap that leads to weight gain.
Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Fasting brings blood pressure more into line, and intermittent fasting is even more effective. Intermittent fasting can change your cholesterol levels for the better. Alternate day fasting lowers triglycerides and LDL numbers which can balance your total cholesterol numbers back into a healthy range.
Animal studies have shown intermittent fasting provides some of the same cardiovascular benefits as exercise, including lowering the blood pressure and resting heart rate. It also improves blood flow for those suffering from coronary artery disease. Imagine the health benefits you will gain if you incorporate light to moderate exercise into your daily regime as well.
It may seem like a drastic step, but Intermittent Fasting isn’t so far from how we normally eat anyway. If you eat breakfast at 7 a.m. and dinner at 7 p.m., that leaves you with almost 12 hours of fasting (from when you finish eating dinner, say 7:30 p.m.) until you eat breakfast at 7 a.m. You will have to give up the 9 p.m. bowl of ice cream or chips, but that’s probably a good plan no matter what kind of diet you might go on. If you move your breakfast up to 10 a.m. and your dinner down to 6 p.m. you’ll have a 16 hour window of fasting.
You don’t have to do it all in one big step either. Take a few days to slowly adjust your meal times and see how it goes. Give your body the time it needs to adjust and give your mind the time it needs to realize you can be successful in your intermittent fasting goals.