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Immunity, Lifestyle, Longevity
Brett Melanson, PhD
June 21, 2022
Brett Melanson, PhD
What is Intermittent Fasting (or IF)?
Simply put, intermittent fasting is the idea of cycling between eating and fasting.
Now, there are different ways that you intermittently fast yourself, and it really comes down to how long you plan to fast for at once.
For example, there is the 16/8 method, which means you fast for 16 hours and limit eating to an 8-hour window throughout the day.
Another way to do IF is the 5:2 method, which is basically when you eat normally for 5 days in a row and fast for the next 2 days.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to provide many health benefits to the body and mind. If you are thinking of trying it, but are unsure of the benefits, look no further.
Here, you’ll find # of ways intermittent fasting can improve your life!
1. Intermittent Fasting is Great for Fat and Weight Loss
Typically, intermittent fasting is a way that people tend to turn to when they are looking to lose weight (1).
If you go the IF route, you are definitely going to eat less, which will allow you to lose weight as long as you stick to the diet.
Interestingly, intermittent fasting may be more effective if you are overweight or at a higher risk of becoming overweight, even if exercising is not a big part of your daily routine (2).
It is possible that intermittent fasting may help you lose weight by increasing your body’s ability to burn fat and use it for energy (3).
So, if you are looking to burn fat and lose weight, this strategy may help you reach your goals (4).
Main point: If you are looking to lose weight, intermittent fasting is a good way to jump start the process, especially if you are overweight or dealing with obesity.
2. Intermittent Fasting Can Change Your Genes and Cells
A really interesting thing about intermittent fasting is that it causes many changes in the body. These changes happen because you stop eating for a while.
Typically, when you regularly eat, your body breaks down sugars from your food to make energy (which keeps you happy and functioning properly).
But, when you are not eating, your body doesn’t get the sugars it wants and needs to make energy.
So, it has to change things up a bit.
More specifically, when you stop eating, the body begins to change the way it works to create energy (so you don’t become tired and grumpy, of course).
These changes can cause a handful of effects on the cells throughout your body.
For example, when you stop eating during a fast, insulin levels drop. Insulin is the key molecule in your blood that allows cells in the body to use sugar (5).
When insulin levels drop, the body begins to burn fat at a higher rate than normal.
Main point: Fasting causes the body to rely on fat instead of sugar for energy. This can increase the ability of the body to burn fat.
3. Intermittent Fasting May Help You Live Longer
It is thought that lowering the amount of stress you experience on a day-to-day basis can increase your lifespan (8).
Interestingly, it was shown that intermittent fasting can positively influence the activity of genes that are needed to handle stress well (9).
Thus, fasting may improve your lifespan by helping you cope better with stress.
Main point: Stress is bad and may limit the lifespan. Intermittent fasting may help increase the lifespan by reducing stress on the body and brain.
4. Intermittent Fasting Helps with Inflammation
Inflammation is a key factor in unhealthy aging and can cause many diseases.
Main point: Intermittent fasting has been shown to decrease bad inflammation in the body, and this has positive effects on mental health.
5. Intermittent Fasting May Be Good for Your Heart
You may be able to boost your heart health by taking on a diet that involves intermittent fasting.
This is because intermittent fasting has been shown to improve things like cholesterol and sugar levels as well as blood pressure. These are all factors that may increase the risk for heart disease (12).
Main point: Intermittent fasting may reduce the risk of heart disease by improving cholesterol and sugar levels as well as your blood pressure.
6. Intermittent Fasting May Improve Brain Health
Our brains tend to change over time and make new connections as we learn things in life.
Interestingly, intermittent fasting may actually improve our ability to learn new things. This is because studies have shown that intermittent fasting can cause new nerve cells in our brain to grow (13).
One way that fasting may help with learning is by increasing levels of the molecule known as brain derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF—to simplify things) (14).
Importantly, fasting increases BDNF in the region of the brain that is known to play a key role in learning and memory (15).
Main point: Intermittent fasting can create new connections in the brain that are necessary for learning—this may give you an edge if you are trying to learn something new.
Is There Anything I Should Know Before Starting An Intermittent Fasting Diet?
It is important to note that intermittent fasting can be difficult to start if you are not used to it.
This is mainly because the body needs to get used to periods where it needs to create its own energy to function.
So, it is important to give yourself some time to adjust to the new dieting schedule and expect some bad days in the beginning.
In some cases, people have been known to start intermittent fasting as a way to increase their physical performance, such as running or weightlifting.
If you are looking to do the same, you should expect to wait at least 1 to 12 weeks after you begin intermittent fasting to begin to see positive effects on performance (16).
Of course, this all comes down to differences between people and how your body adapts to the diet.
In any case, the takeaway is that it will not be a quick and easy change—instead, it is a process that can take time.
As always, you should discuss any changes to your diet or lifestyle with a healthcare professional.
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