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Intermittent fasting and its benefits

Updated on October 10, 2014

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a term for various diet schedules that range between periods of fasting and non fasting. Intermittent fasting causes calorie restriction by imposing certain dietary restrictions. There are some common forms of intermittent as mentioned below –

  • Alternate day fasting involves a 24 hours fast followed by a 24 hour non fast period. This is also called every other day fasting or every other day feeding.
  • Modified fasting involves restricting calorie intake on fasting days rather than none at all. The calorie restriction may range from 30% to 40% of the normal calorie requirement. This fasting regime is commonly used and retains all the benefits of intermittent fasting.
  • This particular regime involves eating only one meal a day.
  • 5:2 diet or fast diet involves calorie restriction for two non consecutive days a week and normal eating the other five days. This diet form has become popular in UK, Europe and USA.

Generally, an individual may form his or her own regimes of intermittent fasting by choosing specific ratios of fasting to non fasting periods.

Scientific basis -

As far back as 1930, the researchers have recorded benefits of calorie restriction in mice, which lived longer and healthier lives. More recently, the researchers have found the same benefits in fruit flies, roundworms and monkeys. They have found that a calorie restriction of 30% to 40% extends the life span by a third or more. Intermittent fasting acts as a form of mild stress that revs up continually cellular defenses against molecular damage. Intermittent fasting also ramps up autophagy, a kind of garbage-disposal system in cells that gets rid of damaged molecules, including ones that have been previously tied to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurological diseases. One of intermittent fasting's main effects seems to be increasing the body's responsiveness to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.

A study in rodents has shown that short term fasting before chemotherapy can prevent some of the toxic side-effects of the treatment. Generally, the opinion is growing up in favor of intermittent fasting that it has a potent, beneficial effect on organisms and that it is potentially extendable to humans. But there is no solid data supported studies on humans that show that cycles of low calorie diets will actually have a beneficial effect.

Benefits of intermittent fasting – The following benefits of intermettent fastion have been observed -

Enhances human growth hormone - Some researchers have shown that fasting triggered a 1300 percent rise of human growth hormone in women and whopping 2000 percent in men. Human growth hormone, commonly referred to as fitness hormone, is responsible for maintaining health, fitness and longevity. It also promotes muscle growth and boosts fat loss by revving up metabolism.

Normalizes insulin sensitivity – Decreased sensitivity to insulin often accompanies obesity and has been linked to diabetes and heart failure.

Improves leptin sensitivity – Leptin is a hormone that communicates the feeling of fullness to the brain when we have eaten enough. When leptin is working properly, it helps us to control how much is consumed at meals. So, leptin insensitivity leads to overeating. Moreover, as leptin resistance increases so does insulin resistance.

Reduces weight – It reduces weight by continuous calorie restriction and, thereby, improves the health conditions associated with overweight and obesity.

Improves biomarkers of disease – The markers of oxidative stress and inflammation decrease with intermittent fasting. There is an improvement in several quality-of-life indicators.

Normalizes ghrelin level – The level of ghrelin, known as hunger hormone, is regulated by intermittent fasting, thereby helping an individual to avoid overeating.

Reduces inflammation – The markers of inflammation are reduced indicating that intermittent fasting produces reduction in inflammation.

Lessens free radical damage – A free radical is capable of independent existence. But many radicals are unstable and highly reactive. They can either donate an electron to or accept an electron from other molecules, thereby behaving as oxidants. Free radicals are derived either from normal essential metabolic processes in the human body or from external sources such as exposure to X-rays, ozone, cigarette smoking, air pollutants, and industrial chemicals. Intermittent fasting lessens the damage caused by free radicals in the body.

Lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels – It has been found to lower total, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides level in the blood.

Preserves memory and learning – Intermittent fasting boosts the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) anywhere from 50% to 400%. BDNF activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, and triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health.

Protects brain from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases- BDNF also protects the brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and some other neurological diseases, the production of which is enhanced by intermittent fasting.

Tips for intermittent fasting –

  • Staying well hydrated will make the fasting periods much easier to get through.
  • Think of fasting as taking a break from eating, not as a period of deprivation. It can be a way to break from worrying about what one has to eat next and when. This will become the new mindset that will allow one to follow a fasting plan long-term.
  • It may seem counterintuitive but the best plan is often to start when you’re busy but not on a day when one is sitting on the couch wanting to snack.
  • Pairing intermittent fasting with consistent exercise will help you get better results. The exercise can be something as simple as a full-body strength training routine two or three times per week and aerobic activity for 30 minutes a day for five days per week.

Conclusion –

It has been conclusively found that during fasting periods our body is under mild stress. It responds to the stress adaptively by enhancing its ability to cope with stress. There is considerable similarity between how our body responds to the stress of exercise and the stress of intermittent fasting. So, by combining exercise and intermittent fasting consistently, an individual can doubly benefit from both.

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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your nice comments.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      I fast at least twice a year; more for religious reasons though. At first it was hard because just the thought of not eating would make me hungry. But you are right liquids helped a lot. Thanks for sharing.

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