Intermittent fasting is great for weight loss! Do a Google search and you’ll find plenty of stories (like this one) about how people who turned to intermittent fasting, or “IF” for short, have lost weight. And we’re not talking about individuals who needed to lose only a couple pounds either.
Many of the intermittent fasting weight loss success stories come from people who struggled for years with obesity. When other diets failed, they found the IF approach made it easier to stay with it. Best yet, by continuing to practice IF, they’ve kept the weight off!
There is one thing to understand about intermittent fasting. It’s not a diet. Research may show it works for weight loss, but IF is really a way of life which is what makes it so easy to follow.[i],[ii] More importantly, its benefits go far beyond weight loss and weight management.
Let’s take a closer look at intermittent fasting and the many powerful health benefits it offers…
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting describes a lifestyle featuring a pattern that switches between normal eating and periods of fasting. A popular practice is the 5:2 method. You eat a normal diet for five days a week. Then, two days a week you eat at most 25% of your normal dietary calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s 500 calories; an 1,800-calorie diet would be 450 calories.
The practice doesn’t define which days you fast. It’s only important that you do it twice a week. It’s generally recommended to space the days so there is at least one non-fasting day between the two on which you do fast.
Intermittent fasting is different from continuous caloric restriction, aka dieting or severe fasting, where you restrict calories all the time. This makes IF easier to do as hunger pangs aren’t constant. It also allows for a normal diet the rest of the time, so you keep up your nutrient intake to keep your body fueled with the vitamins and minerals it needs.
A normal diet doesn’t, of course, include “junk food” which would counteract or negate the value of the fasting periods – and could lead to weight gain! But as noted, weight loss isn’t the only major benefit of intermittent fasting. Here are many other powerful benefits of intermittent fasting researchers have reported:
Speeds Up the Metabolism
Studies show people who do intermittent fasting enjoy lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.[iii],[iv] Based on results from one small study, this may have to do with an ability to metabolize fats better.[v] Their bodies simply cleared fat out of the system faster after they ate. This leads to more energy, faster recovery from exercise and other physical labor and a clearer mind.
Regenerates Intestinal Cells to Improve Digestion
Intermittent fasting “turns on” stem cells which are responsible for regeneration and renewal of the intestinal lining.[vi] This process is essential to keep the intestines working at top efficiency.
Symptoms like indigestion, gas, bloating and generally irritable bowels indicate incomplete digestion and often occur as a result of a poor diet, illness and age. Whatever the cause, these symptoms also mean the lining of the intestines is breaking down. The research suggests intermittent fasting gives the intestines a chance to recover which would help improve digestion, nutrient absorption and may reduce the unpleasant gas, bloating and other uncomfortable issues that happen with poor digestion.
Lifts the Mood
In one study, people with multiple sclerosis who practiced intermittent fasting showed “significant improvements” in their overall emotional well-being.[vii] Intermittent fasting has been shown to boost levels of BDNF, a protein in the brain associated with improving mood and memory.[viii]
Protects the Brain
Intermittent fasting has been shown to prompt a process called autophagy that clears old or dead cells from the body. It also does this in the brain.[ix] This has a profoundly positive impact on the brain as it promotes the creation of new brain cells, which are essential to protect your memory, support a positive mood and think clearly![x]
IF Boosts Levels of Growth Hormone
Human growth hormone supports your body’s natural healing processes. It also supports brain health and keeps your cells working the way they’re supposed to. Research shows intermittent fasting naturally encourages your body to produce more HGH which helps keep the body in a regular state of renewal.[xi],[xii]
Improves Insulin Response and Blood Sugar
Researchers have observed improvements in fasting insulin levels and reduced insulin resistance in people who do intermittent fasting.[xiii]
Supports Heart Health
The weight loss, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and better blood sugar that comes from improved insulin response also support heart health.[xiv] Additional research shows it supports lower blood pressure and higher HDL-cholesterol (the good cholesterol) levels.[xv]
IF Increases Resistance to Oxidative Stress & Inflammation
Intermittent fasting also increases the body’s ability to respond to chronic inflammation. In one study, researchers looked at the effect of IF on patients with asthma and discovered that the diet decreased inflammation in their airways and improved their overall breathing.[xvi]
Slows Aging and Promotes Longevity
Intermittent fasting has been shown to turn on specific genes called sirtuins. These genes are known for their anti-aging effects, especially the way they improve metabolism, encourage antioxidant response, help the body handle stress and support the removal of old, malfunctioning or dead cells.[xvii] By promoting cellular renewal, sirtuins slow aging and may support a longer, healthier life!
[ii] Wilson RA, et al. Intermittent Fasting with or without Exercise Prevents Weight Gain and Improves Lipids in Diet-Induced Obese Mice. Nutrients. 2018 Mar 12;10(3). pii: E346. doi: 10.3390/nu10030346.
[iv] Tinsley GM, et al. Effects of intermittent fasting on body composition and clinical health markers in humans. Nutr Rev. 2015 Oct;73(10):661-74. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv041. Epub 2015 Sep 15.
[v] Antoni, R., Johnston, K., Collins, A., & Robertson, M. (2018). Intermittent v. continuous energy restriction: Differential effects on postprandial glucose and lipid metabolism following matched weight loss in overweight/obese participants. <i>British Journal of Nutrition,</i> <i>119</i>(5), 507-516. doi:10.1017/S0007114517003890
[vi] Mihaylova MM, et al. Fasting Activates Fatty Acid Oxidation to Enhance Intestinal Stem Cell Function during Homeostasis and Aging. Cell Stem Cell. 2018 May 3;22(5):769-778.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2018.04.001.
[vii] Fitzgerald KC, et al. Effect of intermittent vs. daily calorie restriction on changes in weight and patient-reported outcomes in people with multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2018 May 5;23:33-39. doi: 10.1016/j.msard.2018.05.002. [Epub ahead of print]
[viii] Mattson MP1, et al. Meal size and frequency affect neuronal plasticity and vulnerability to disease: cellular and molecular mechanisms. J Neurochem. 2003 Feb;84(3):417-31.
[ix] Alirezaei M, Kemball CC, Flynn CT, Wood MR, Whitton JL, Kiosses WB. Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy. 2010;6(6):702-710. doi:10.4161/auto.6.6.12376.
[x] Manzanero S, Erion JR, Santro T, et al. Intermittent fasting attenuates increases in neurogenesis after ischemia and reperfusion and improves recovery. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. 2014;34(5):897-905. doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2014.36.
[xi] Aberg ND1, et al. Aspects of growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-I related to neuroprotection, regeneration, and functional plasticity in the adult brain. ScientificWorldJournal. 2006 Jan 18;6:53-80.
[xii] Ho KY, Veldhuis JD, Johnson ML, et al. Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 1988;81(4):968-975.
[xiii] Adrienne R. et al. Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Translational Research, Volume 164, Issue 4, 2014, Pages 302-311, ISSN 1931-5244.
[xiv] Mark P. Mattson, et al. Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Volume 16, Issue 3, 2005, Pages 129-137, ISSN 0955-2863.
[xv] Sundfør TM1, et al. Effect of intermittent versus continuous energy restriction on weight loss, maintenance and cardiometabolic risk: A randomized 1-year trial. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2018 Mar 29. pii: S0939-4753(18)30100-5. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2018.03.009. [Epub ahead of print]
[xvi] Johnson JB, Summer W, Cutler RG, et al. Alternate Day Calorie Restriction Improves Clinical Findings and Reduces Markers of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Overweight Adults with Moderate Asthma. Free radical biology & medicine. 2007;42(5):665-674. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2006.12.005.
[xvii] Zhu Y1, et al. Metabolic regulation of Sirtuins upon fasting and the implication for cancer. Curr Opin Oncol. 2013 Nov;25(6):630-6. doi: 10.1097/01.cco.0000432527.49984.a3.