Intermittent fasting, abbreviated as “IF,” refers to an extended period without food, followed by a period of normal eating. Many historians agree that our human ancestors went for extended periods of time without eating, mainly because they had to forage and hunt to find food. However, the present moment affords us a luxury our ancestors never had. Food is easy to come by, so fasting becomes a choice, unlike our ancestors who had no option but to fast. This article will explore the latest evidence-based benefits of intermittent fasting. But first, let us look at the different types of intermittent fasting.
There are different types of intermittent fasting, with the most advocating for 12 to 24 hours without food. Here are some of the most common forms of intermittent fasting;
Different Types of Intermittent Fasting
1. The 16:8 Plan
This kind of intermittent fasting involves going for 16 hours without food and eating during an 8-hour window. For instance, eating only between 10 am and 6 pm during fasting.
2. The 24-Hour Fast
Here you go for 24 hours without eating, perhaps consuming water or fluids only and taking one main meal at 24-hour intervals during fasting, which could be weekly or monthly.
3. The Alternate Day Fast
The alternate-day fast is a more extreme type of intermittent fasting, where you eat only on alternate days, and many people cannot sustain this over a long period.
4. The 5:2 Plan
In this type of intermittent fasting, you consume fewer calories for 2 days each week, usually, 500 to 600 calories and then eat normally for the remaining 5 days.
Research-Backed Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Scientists associate the benefits of intermittent fasting with giving your body a break from the energy-intensive work of breaking down food. When your body is not focused on breaking down food, it diverts energy to eliminating damaged cells, a process called Autophagy. Autophagy has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. Eating less means your blood sugar levels are lower, which can benefit those with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.
Here is a list of IF benefits backed by science:
1. Weight Loss
Many people who opt for intermittent fasting do it for weight loss purposes. Generally, intermittent fasting means taking in fewer calories, thus lowering insulin levels. In addition, IF increases HGH (Human Growth Hormones) levels and norepinephrine, which makes the body break down stored fat for energy. Intermittent fasting increases metabolic rate, making the body burn more calories.
According to a 2015 scientific literature review in the Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology journal, Intermittent fasting caused a weight loss of between 3 and 8% over a 3-24 week period. In addition, the study participants lost 4 to 7% of their waist circumference between 6-24 weeks. The participants lost a considerable amount of visceral fat, which is known to cause many diseases.
2. Lowers the Risk of Type II Diabetes
Obesity is one of the major risk factors for developing diabetes. Since intermittent fasting helps with weight loss, it can help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
An examination of evidence in a 2014 review paper in the Translational Research Journal showed that IF could lower blood glucose levels and insulin in people with diabetes. The authors concluded that alternate-day fasting showed promising signs of reducing diabetes risk. Furthermore, the researchers recommended that intermittent fasting could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in adults after observing a reduction in insulin sensitivity in this group.
3. Improved Cardiovascular Health
A 2016 review found that intermittent fasting improves several aspects of heart health. Intermittent fasting reduces markers of heart disease such as heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides in animals and humans.
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4. Improved Cognitive Function
A 2013 study in mice found that intermittent fasting improves brain health. As a rule, what is good for the body is great for the mind. IF improves several metabolic aspects vital for optimal brain function, such as; blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, inflammation and oxidative stress. In the study, mice put on intermittent fasting exhibited better memory and learning compared to those with normal access to food.
Besides, another animal study published in 2016 found that IF reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Stroke, all of which affect the brain.
Intermittent fasting has been a natural part of the human evolution process since it can be traced back in time. The massive benefits go beyond weight loss, for which it is well known. If you are looking for a more structured approach to intermittent fasting, consider contacting a health coach, doctor or nutritionist who is an expert in the field.