The Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Reduce Insulin Resistance, and Metabolic Syndrome – Lowering Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease and Strokes
IF has been shown to combat the worldwide problem of “Metabolic Syndrome” defined as having a high amount of visceral fat, combined with insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, and/ or high blood pressure.
Having just one of these conditions doesn’t mean you have Metabolic Syndrome. However, any of these conditions increase your risk of serious disease. Having more than one of these might increase your risk even more.
The worst thing about Metabolic Syndrome is that most of the disorders associated with it have no symptoms, although a large waist circumference is a visible sign. Your doctor will not even begin to treat you until your Metabolic Syndrome turns into one of the above diseases.
If you have metabolic syndrome or any of its components, lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.
It seems that having insulin resistance is one of the biggest risk factors in developing MS, and IF has been shown to reduce Insulin Resistance.
In case you don’t know, Insulin along with glucagon are hormones in charge of regulating your blood sugar levels. Every food you eat will raise your blood sugar levels, with different foods having more or less of an effect – processed carbohydrates seem to raise blood sugar the most, and healthy fats the least.
Every time your blood sugar levels rise, insulin is released to bring them back down. If you eat a diet that constantly skyrockets your blood sugar levels you start to need more and more insulin to have the same effect. Think of it like caffeine, when you first start drinking coffee, you only need one because you are very sensitive to the caffeine, but over time you start to need more and more to have the same effect. You could say you become caffeine resistant.
Intermittent Fasting makes you more Insulin sensitive, the opposite of being insulin resistant, as well as being very effective at decreasing visceral fat and triglycerides. (1)
Boost the Immune System
Fasting not only protects against immune system damage — a major side effect of chemotherapy — but also induces immune system regeneration, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal.
A recent study done by Valter D Longo, one of the leading researchers in fasting concluded that in mice and human, fasting lowered white blood cell counts, which in turn triggered the immune system to start producing new white blood cells. White blood cells (or lymphocytes) are a key component of your body’s immune system(2).
Longo’s hypothesis is that fasting forces your body to “recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed” which explains the drop in the white blood cell count.
I often talk about fasting as a “reset button” and this is exactly what is happening here, old damaged white blood cells are being replaced with brand new ones, thereby resetting the immune system.
Of course, more studies need to be done on the subject, but it goes to show that some amazing things happen in the body when we are in the fasted state, and contrary to popular belief, if done for the right reasons fasting can be incredibly beneficial for the body.
On October 3rd, 2016, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries of mechanisms that underpin the process known as autophagy. (3)
Autophagy is a cellular maintenance process – stimulated by fasting – that is critical in disease resistance, longevity and general body and brain vitality.
How does it work? Your cells create membranes that hunt out scraps of dead, diseased, or worn-out cells; Autophagy then uses the resulting molecules for energy or to make new cell parts.
It’s like your bodies innate recycling mechanism. Autophagy makes us more efficient machines to get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes.
There’s also evidence that the process plays a hand in controlling inflammation and immunity(4).
Slowing Down The Ageing Process
Now that you understand the process Autophagy, you can begin to understand why there is a large community of scientist who believe that fasting is the key for longevity.
Scientists have known since the 1930s that if they want to increase the lifespan of test rats, they put them on an intermittent fasting schedule like the alternate-day fasting method, whereby they eat normally one day and then fast the next.
Fasting reduces oxidative stress which is essentially an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralisation by antioxidants. It is one of the main factors that contributes towards ageing and many chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Given the known benefits of metabolism and all sorts of health markers, it makes sense that intermittent fasting could help you live a longer and healthier life.
Although weight loss may be your primary reason for trying intermittent fasting, I believe that focusing on the above benefits can mean that this way of eating can become a sustainable and enjoyable way of life. It’s always better to do something for positive reasons, rather than negative reasons. Weight loss should be the by-product of Intermittent Fasting, not the sole aim
Having said that IF has been shown to be incredibly effective at promoting fat loss and retaining lean muscle mass, which is the holy grail of weight loss.
About four to five hours after we finish eating, our insulin levels (the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar) begin to fall and this triggers a series of hormonal changes as we start to enter a fasted state. At first the body uses its stores of glycogen (energy from carbohydrates is stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles and liver), but when these are depleted, the body starts to turn to fat for energy.
We are naturally fat-burning machines and fat is the preferred fuel source for most of our day-to-day activities such as walking, working and steady-state cardio like running or cycling. Physiologically, we are still the same as when we were hunter-gatherers. We need a certain amount of body fat to survive, so if we constantly eat food our bodies will only burn glucose (sugar)/glycogen (stored carbohydrate) for energy and will hold on to fat reserves.
We have to trick the body into thinking there isn’t food around to start burning fat for energy. Getting the body to burn fat rather than glucose for energy is key to most of the health benefits of fasting and is why it is so effective as a weight-loss tool. Fasting has also been shown to have the greatest effect on decreasing visceral fat – the dangerous fat stored around the belly and internal organs and which can cause Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and Alzheimer’s.
A more natural way of eating
IF effectively mimics the way our ancestors ate when food wasn’t so readily available around the clock. We have been conned by food companies to think that we need to “graze” on food all day in order to function properly – in my opinion, grazing is negatively affecting our waistlines, wallets, mood, energy levels and health.
It’s so much more than a weight loss tool, it’s proving to be one of the most powerful ways to take control of your overall health and well-being.