The Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

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Looking for a possible anti-aging treatment that doesn’t involve prolongued self-deprivation via calorie restriction? Well recent research may be showing that intermittent fasting, or fasting for short periods of time, may protect cells from “normal” aging wear and tear. Could it hold the key to longevity? Maybe. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post on Should I Eat Breakfast?, scientific research is hardly ever clear on their answers.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

I had this question too. What is intermittent fasting? Here’s an example of an intermittent fasting schedule: You eat normally today (Wednesday), and eat nothing after dinner and then go to bed. Say you finished eating dinner at 6:30 PM (if you’re so lucky!), went to bed and woke up without eating until lunch or dinner. This, in essence, would be intermittent fasting. Going for periods of deprivation, like our ancestors did somewhat regularly, pretty much sums up the definition.

What are the Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?

The scientific industry has recently been involved in an explosion of literature delving into the health benefits of fasting and intermittent fasting, yet there are still some holes and gaps that don’t provide us with clear truths.

We do know, however, that fasting for short periods of time can improve glucose tolerance and even make the cells more sensitive to insulin (which are basically the same thing). This is good for people who are trying to lose weight, who need more energy, who have diabetes, who want to bring down inflammation and many more.

A study form the University of California, Berkeley, has shown that mice fed a restricted caloric diet, and only fed every other day, had a significant reduction in cancer cell proliferation compared to the other mice who ate freely everyday.

Intermittent fasting research has also shown that it may help fight aging by protecting the telomeres at the end of each chromosome. When each cell divides, telomeres shorten. When telomeres become too short, the cell dies, and aging slowly builds up. Cell division naturally occurs during metabolism, and we can only do so much to strengthen or prevent accelerated shortening.

Fasting, however, as well as calorie restriction with optimum nutrition, shows that we may be able to protect those telomeres from shortening at a fast rate, possible slowing down the effects and signs of aging. This is due through the slowing down of cellular metabolism. When there is only enough fuel to keep all vital systems functioning properly, still with adequete nutrition, metabolism slows down because it isn’t needing to break down so many large molecules (from our food). This results in less damage to cells, less oxidation and the protection of mitochondria (then energy storehouse of the cell).

Also, healthy calorie restriction in general seems to increase the levels of two certain hormones which increase the repairing mechanisms of DNA. Resveratrol has been found to do the same thing. How cool is that? You can find this compound in red wine, but I think it is much safer to consume in supplemental form, rather than drinking alcohol.

Is Intermittent Fasting For Everyone?

It might not be. Some body types who are built to be tall and quite large may faint if they go 18-24 hours without food. I think this is rather psychological, however, because if they had to, they would. Because there is an abundant of food just steps away in the kitchen, it makes it impossible for these people.

Also, those suffering from, or had suffered from, an eating disorder shouldn’t attempt this. Certain people with control issues might take it to an extreme and go for long periods without eating the right amount of nutrients in the eating phase. You still have to be sure to get all the nutrients your body needs on any healthy eating approach, making calorie restriction or intermittent fasting not a good fir for those with past eating issues.

Growing children will obviously not want to embark on such a diet challenge, as they require every nutrient they can get. It is yet to be determined if the elderly should try this, as it can help slow down aging. More controlled environmental studies, please?

How Many Hours Should I Fast?

Many people have asked how many hours they should fast in order to receive the benefits from intermittent fasting. Fasting for as little as 16 hours have shown enormous amount of benefits in keeping down oxidation in the mitochondria and protecting the cells against erosion. This may merely consist of eating nothing after dinner until lunch the next day. Most people would be able to do this.

Fasting for longer than 48 hours, in my opinion, would be incredibly counterproductive (see the comments below). At this stage your body can start to eat away at its own muscle, resulting in muscle atrophy. Plus your cells will not be receiving adequate nutrition, at all, to help keep cellular processes occurring, even at the most basic of levels.

Thanks for reading! I hoped you enjoyed the “Healthy Benefits of Intermittent Fasting“. Please share with a friend if you thought it was interesting or beneficial. Also, tomorrow…a new recipe! Learn how I make homemade and raw coconut milk. SO creamy.

This is The Healthy Advocate.

If you like this post, you will love my new eBook featuring unconventional (yet science based) nutrition information and healthy, tasty gluten-free recipes.  The Unconventional Gluten-free Cookbook, which you can download now instantly.

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5 Responses to “The Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting”
  1. Lynette Dumas 18 May 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Hi! This has been a hot topic in the low carb/ paleo world. Pretty much you have lumped it up from what researchers have been touting. I personally am working on my insulin resistance due to PCOS, by utilizing IMF. Working so far, with the aid of whole food supplements, exercising, and still eating a very low carb diet. Thank you so much for sharing your findings. Everyone is different, but if you get stuck IMF does help imo.

  2. stuart 21 June 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    Fasting for longer than 48 hrs will not cause muscle wasting, the body knows how to protect skeletal muscles in times of food deprivation, it is process adapted over millions of years by all organisms.
    What would be consumed by the body is the older, weaker, cells, and so when the fast ends and new cells are built, it’s like a reguvenation process.

    • admin 22 June 2011 at 3:22 pm #

      Hi Stuart, thanks for the comment! I come from a background of restricted eating, so I am always cautious against avoiding not eating for a long period of time, which is why I put the note on over 48 hours. Fasting for health, however, is incredibly interesting, and I applaud those that can do it for 48 hours yet still remain healthy in both mind and body! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂


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