Lifestyle

Intermittent Fasting Benefits: 15 Amazing Science-Backed Benefits

One of the most popular current fitness trends is intermittent fasting. It's a lifestyle choice that can help you lose weight and people report that it makes them feel better as well. If you're stuck in a weight loss rut and you want to try something new, we encourage you to read on to find out what
intermittent fasting is as well as the 15 science-backed benefits. (1)(2)

Contents:

Defining Intermittent Fasting
15 Science-Backed Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

  1. Reduces Inflammation
  2. Leads to Healthy Weight Loss
  3. Increases Mental Clarity
  4. Positively Influences Hormones
  5. Helps Your Gut
  6. Helps Encourage Heart Health
  7. Protects Against Autoimmune Conditions
  8. Lowers the Risk of Type II Diabetes
  9. Protects Against Infection
  10. Promotes High Performance Levels
  11. May Extend Your Longevity
  12. Helps Combats Depression
  13. Induces Cellular Repair
  14. Protects Against Oxidative Stress
  15. Protects Against Neurodegenerative Diseases

Bottom Line

Defining Intermittent Fasting

The first thing you have to understand is what intermittent fasting actually is. In short, intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you switch between blocks of time for eating and not eating, or fasting. Instead of concentrating on what types of food to eat, you concentrate on when you should eat.

There are several different fasting blocks and cycles available, and people fast at different hours and for different time periods. You'll split your day or your week into eating and fasting time, and most people start off with shorter periods of fasting and work their way up to full days or 12-hour cycles. (3)

You already fast when you sleep, so it may make sense to extend your fast a few more hours right when you wake up. Other people choose to not eat breakfast, eat their first meal around 12 o'clock and eat their final meal at 8 at night. One of the most popular methods is the 16/8 fasting method where you eat for eight hours and fast for 16 each day.

Depending on which type of fast you choose to follow, you may or may not be able to eat small amounts of low-calorie foods during your fasting window. Also, most fasts allow you to drink things like water, tea and other beverages that have low or no calories. (4)

15 Science-Backed Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

1. Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is a problem for millions of people, and some people may not even realise that they have it. Normally, inflammation is your immune system's response to trauma or an infection. However, it can be over-responsive and attack systems in your body because it mistakenly recognises them as a threat when they're not. (5)(6)

Intermittent fasting can help reduce inflammation in several ways. First, fasting encourages your body to produce ghrelin. Ghrelin is the hormone that is responsible for signalling that you're hungry, and it also has involvement in your metabolism. Longer periods of fasting can also reduce systematic inflammation. (7)(8)

Also, people with low-grade inflammation have a problem with their systems releasing cytokines. Cytokines encourage your immune system's inflammatory response, and the constant presence of cytokines furthers the inflammatory cycle. When you fast, the natural levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines along with various immune cells can reduce inflammation. (9)(10)

2. Leads to Healthy Weight Loss

Some people have difficulty losing weight, or they start to lose weight and hit a plateau and then get discouraged and stop trying. You may also hit short plateaus with intermittent fasting, but studies show that it is very helpful in encouraging healthy weight loss. Particularly, the 5:2 method of intermittent fasting has proved to be beneficial. (11)

When you fast, your body's natural resistance to insulin drops, and one study showed that participants who fasted had higher insulin sensitivities than people who didn't fast. It's also popular for helping to reduce the risk of diabetes because it stimulates your metabolism and it helps you to burn more calories between meals. (12)(13)

One promising study showed that intermittent fasting can cause weight loss of 3% to 8% over the course of 3 to 23 weeks. It's also widely believed that this type of fasting works to prevent muscle loss while burning stubborn belly fat. (14)(15)(16)

3. Increases Mental Clarity

When you do things that benefit your body, they usually benefit your brain at the same time. Intermittent fasting can work to increase your mental clarity and prevent cognitive decline. This is especially important as you age. Intermittent fasting can encourage the growth of new cells in your brain, and this helps to keep your brain functioning at peak levels. (17)(18)

Fasting also encourages your brain to produce and use higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. BDNF is essential for having strong mental clarity, and it also works to help prevent extreme lows in your mood like you'd get with depression. (19)(20)

Two other ways that intermittent fasting can help with mental clarity is by protecting the brain cells against damage due to oxidative stress and by increasing insulin sensitivity. This encourages your brain cells to produce helpful enzymes to fight against diseases. (21)(22)

4. Positively Influences Hormones

When you fast for a few hours, changes start to take place throughout your body. Your body will naturally start the cellular repair process and it'll change your hormone levels when it does this to help stimulate your fat cells and make them more accessible. (23)(24)

During a fast, your blood levels of human growth hormone can drastically increase up to five times their normal levels. Human growth hormone plays a vital role in several functions in your body including muscle gain, fat burning and weight loss. (25)(26)(27)

You may also get hormone levels that promote gene expression. Your hormones will rise to stimulate your genes and molecules to work proactively to help protect you against cellular damage and disease. Your hormones also play a vital role in helping you stay healthy and live longer as a whole, and fasting helps to encourage production of new cells that fight against aging and disease. (28)(29)

5. Helps Your Gut

Poor gut health and chronic inflammation go hand in hand, and poor gut health can be an instigator for various other health problems ranging from joint pain up to mental fog. Intermittent fasting stimulates the production of Motilin and Ghrelin. This amino acid and hormone are responsible for regulating your appetite and regulating your bacteria levels in your gut. (30)(31)

They also encourage your system to secrete gastric acid to get it ready to extract nutrients when you eat. This can help to keep your digestive tract working in top form and it can also reduce the chances of having things like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and nausea. (32)

Since it regulates your digestive tract's bacteria levels, you'll have a decreased risk of ending up with inflammation or cracks in your digestive tract lining. In turn, this can help to prevent system-wide chronic inflammation or the chances for ulcer development. (33)

6. Helps Encourage Heart Health

Did you know that heart disease is one of the leading causes of deaths in the world? It's important to note that people who have "markers" or conditions that contribute to poor heart health have an elevated chance of having a heart-related issue. (34)

Intermittent fasting has proved to be effective at lowering some of these key markers and improving heart health. Fasting encourages your body to lower your blood pressure levels and reduce the amount of "bad" cholesterol present in your blood. This can reduce your risk of a heart attack. (35)(36)

Fasting is also a natural way to help you lower your blood sugar levels as well as your inflammatory markers and your blood triglyceride levels. All of these things can reduce your risk of having poor heart function, plaque build-up on your artery walls, stroke, heart attack, or rapid heart rate. The studies show that fasting is a natural and safe way to improve your heart health. (37)(38)

7. Protects Against Autoimmune Conditions

Autoimmune conditions and diseases are a result of an overactive immune system or dysfunction in your immune system. Most autoimmune disorders don't have a cure, so proper management is the key to living with these conditions. (39)

Promising studies show that people who practice intermittent fasting once every three days in a cycle have a greater autoimmunity symptom decrease than people who don't practice fasting. This is because fasting promotes cell regrowth and regeneration, and it also helps to heal any underlying inflammation caused by the autoimmune disease. (40)

Other studies showed that intermittent fasting can help to reduce the severity of autoimmune disorders like Lupus and that it can actually improve any symptoms that a person may experience during a flare. This is due to the fact that fasting stimulates hormone production that helps reduce the inflammatory response. (41)

8. Lowers the Risk of Type II Diabetes

In recent decades, Type II diabetes has shot up as a medical condition that thousands of people live with. For people with this condition, their bodies aren't sensitive to insulin, and the cells have trouble using it to control and lower the amount of glucose in the person's blood. Intermittent fasting can help reduce the risk of Type II diabetes. (42)

Intermittent fasting has shown promise for helping with insulin resistance and making your cells more receptive to using it. This can help to drop your blood sugar levels by impressive amounts. One study showed that people who didn't fast had a blood sugar level drop of 3% to 6% while the fasting group had a blood sugar level drop of 20% to 31%. (43)(44)

Also, intermittent fasting can be helpful in protecting your systems against the common complications of Type II diabetes. For example, one study showed that fasting can protect your kidneys against damage. (45)

9. Protects Against Infection

When you get run down or tired, your body becomes more prone to infections and illnesses. Promising studies show that having a fasting cycle encourages your body to produce higher levels of IgA, and IgA is a critical component in stimulating your immune system and boosting how strong it is. (46)

Other studies also showed that intermittent fasting can encourage your brain to maintain cognitive function and suppress inflammation during an illness or infection. Fasting also appears to encourage your neutrophils phagocytic cells to go after the bacteria that causes infection rather than the refined sugars and starches in your diet. This reduces the number of infectious bacteria in your system, and it reduces the chances of you getting an infection. (47)(48)

Additionally, fasting encourages your body to maintain healthy glucose levels. Bacterial infections need higher levels of glucose to survive, and fasting ensures that there aren't excessive levels available for the bacteria to feed on. (49)

10. Promotes High Performance Levels

Have you ever eaten a big meal around the middle of the day and felt your performance level drop two or three hours later? This is due to your body trying to process the food you recently ate, and it can cause you to feel drowsy. Fasting promotes alertness, and it can help you go through your day without that afternoon fatigue. (50)

Research found that sessions of intermittent fasting have the same positive effects on your system as a session of physical exercise has. It stimulates your body to release hormones that help to fight fatigue and keep you alert. Additionally, it also helps you preserve lean body mass because you're not eating large meals every day. (51)(52)

Other studies also found that intermittent fasting doesn't have any negative impacts on performance levels, and it can actually enhance them because your body won't struggle to regulate itself after digesting larger meals. (53)

11. May Extend Your Longevity

Everyone wants to be as healthy as they can and live as long as they can. New research suggests that having cycles of intermittent fasting can actually work to extend your lifespan and longevity. Fasting can extend the lifespan in rats similarly to how continuous calorie restriction cycles do. (54)(55)

Another study took rats and split them into two groups. The first group of rats ate without fasting and the second group of rats fasted every other day. Scientists found that the group of rats who fasted every other day lived an average of 83% longer than the group of rats who didn't fast at all. (56)

Although human trials are still a while off, the results using rats are very promising. This is why fasting is getting very popular with the anti-aging group, and why scientists are starting to dedicate more research to it. (57)

12. Helps Combats Depression

Depression is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It directly impacts how people act, feel and go about their daily activities like eating, sleeping and going to work. People can fluctuate from periods of deep depression to slightly improved moods and back again. (58)

Intermittent fasting can be a powerful tool to help you fight depression. For starters, studies show that cycles of fasting and calorie restriction can improve feelings of anger, confusion, tension and the overall mood of the study participants. (59)

Fasting encourages your body to release Ghrelin. Ghrelin is the amino acid peptide that is responsible for helping your body regulate your hunger response. It also plays a role in regulating your energy levels. There are studies that show that higher levels of Ghrelin in the body can create antidepressant effects. (60)(61)

13. Induces Cellular Repair

Your body produces waste products that store in your cells until your body triggers the waste process. This waste process is known as autophagy, and it's a vital part of your cell's repair process because they have to get rid of the waste before they can work on any damage that may be present. They will get rid of these waste products on their own, but fasting encourages quicker disposal. (62)

Fasting prompts your body to start the cellular repair process by getting rid of the waste products in the cell. Your cells will start to break down and metabolise any dysfunctional or broken protein particles and flush them from the cells. (63)(64)

Once this process starts and your cells get rid of the waste products, they can work on any damaged areas. Also, this process can protect your body and different systems against several diseases because they're able to fight any damage quicker. It's proven effective against the onset of Alzheimer's disease as well as certain cancers. (65)(66)

14. Protects Against Oxidative Stress

Although some people thrive in environments with high stress levels, your body may not be able to handle it or process it very well. This can result in oxidative stress damage to your cells, and oxidative stress is where free radicals combined with unstable molecules attack your DNA and protein molecules and damage them. (67)

As we mentioned, intermittent fasting can protect your system against inflammation, and inflammation is a key component in oxidative stress. It lowers the amounts of C-reactive proteins, Interleukin-6 and other inflammatory markers in your system, and this leads to fewer instances of oxidative stress. (68)(69)(70)

Fasting can slowly start to boost your body's resistance to oxidative stress as well. This means that your cells are less receptive to damage in the first place, and your body will start to deal with the higher stress levels in more productive ways. If this happens, you should notice that your skin looks healthier, you have fewer issues with aches and pains and your mood should improve. (71)(72)

15. Protects Against Neurodegenerative Diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases are problems for people around the world. They are slow, progressive diseases that don't have cures. These types of disease involve the deaths of nerve cells in your central nervous system or brain lose their function over time and die. (73)

Intermittent fasting has positive influences on Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. One study showed that fasting could potentially delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease, and another study showed that it significantly improved Alzheimer's disease symptoms over time. (74)(75)

Since intermittent fasting encourages your body to produce higher levels of Ghrelin, this can increase the amount of dopamine present in your brain. Since one of the markers of Parkinson's disease is a decline in the amount of dopamine in your brain, studies prove that fasting can help slow the onset of it. Finally, it can also help with Huntington's disease to slow the progression and reduce the symptom severity. (76)(77)

Bottom Line

Intermittent fasting can encourage several different health benefits. We've outlined what intermittent fasting is as well as 15 science-backed benefits. You can now decide if this is something that you want to try in your own life, and we encourage you to talk to your doctor to see if intermittent fasting is the right choice for your lifestyle.

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