A lot of people associate fasting with words like difficult, detox, dangerous, deprivation… what if I told you, when it’s done correctly, a fast – or a temporary break from food – has the potential to make a very positive impact on your health? And so you might ask ‘What are the possible health benefits?’ Let me tell you.
Both intermittent fasting and caloric restriction have a vast amount of evidence supporting their ability to enhance cardiovascular and brain functions by inducing a mild state of ketosis. This happens when your liver utilizes all its glycogen stores so that it must use fat as an energy source as opposed to glucose, which usually happens after about 12 hours or so of fasting.
But isn’t Ketosis bad for you?
Actually no, this metabolic state is actually extremely beneficial as it can reduce oxidative damage and increase cellular stress resistance. This means both naturally off-setting the effects of free-radicals by preventing oxidation from occurring in the first place, as well as enhancing the cells ability to cope with stress by activating adaptive stress-response pathways - in a similar fashion to what happens during intense physical exercise.
The physiological effects of these mechanisms is varied and plentiful, and include increased insulin sensitivity, decreased oxidative damage to proteins, lipids and DNA, increased resistance to various types of stress, and enhanced immune function. But this just scratches the surface, as the available data also suggests various types of fasting can enhance synaptic plasticity, thus promoting the survival and growth of neurones or brain cells.
Potential Benefits At a Glance
- Decreased insulin, and regulation of leptin and ghrelin levels which can play a role in obesity by increasing ketones
- Enhanced utilisation of fats.
- Decreased Leptin (the hunger hormone) and inflammation.
- Increased insulin sensitivity and improved glucose tolerance
- Optimises energy metabolism
- Can help reduce resting heart rate and increase stress resistance.
- May help decrease blood pressure
- Helps maintain healthy cholesterol
- Decreased energy uptake and inflammation.
- Improved cell differentiation
- Increase in efficiency
- Decreased inflammation
- Improved cognitive function through increased neurotropic factors
- Increased stress resistance and decreased inflammation.
- Promotes Neuroplasticity and cell growth through increasing energy metabolism of brain cells
But is it a Nightmare to do???
It’s the question you have probably been waiting for me to answer. These benefits sound amazing but the sound of starving just seems senseless and down-right masochistic. However… it’s actually not that difficult, as just by waking up in the morning you’ve fasted unintentionally while sleeping, and this will find you in a mildly ketotic state.
There are actually a couple of ways to approach this easily and with minimal discomfort, you can either:
- Impose a Caloric restriction for yourself 2 days a week. Otherwise known as the 5:2 diet used commonly for weight-loss, this style of intermittent fasting proposes 5 days of eating as you normally would, and 2 days curbing calories to approximately 500 - 600.
- 5 Days a Week of Calorie control/Every 3 months – This means the first day limiting oneself to 1,100 Calories, and the subsequent 4 days to 750 Calories.
- Skip Breakfast! Shock Horror… How dare we suggest this? The truth is, it’s not a big deal if you are in generally good health and maintain a balanced diet. It isn’t license to binge for the rest of the day, make sure you break your fast with some substantial protein to counteract this such as Eggs or Oats with Greek Yoghurt.
In my opinion it is the easiest way to induce a mild ketosis. For those of you who aren’t particularly hungry upon waking, this will be ideal. For those who are ravenous, this might not be the best option, or perhaps save it for a day you wake up a little later and start the day off with some exercise before sitting down to Breakfast.
Intermittent fasting and temporary caloric restriction can be a step toward living a long, healthy life according to ever-growing quality research.
Less is more! Fasting for long periods can be damaging to metabolic health, and should only be done if being treated therapeutically for certain conditions and under a qualified Health-Care Professional. Before embarking on even a mild type of fast please consultant with your doctor or seek medical attention if suffering from any health condition.