From ancient times, people belonging to various ethnicities and religions have engaged in ritual fasting. Today, the benefits of intermittent fasting are more widely recognized and it has become a popular way of eating that carries some long-term health benefits.
Johns Hopkins Medicine’s neuroscientist Mark Mattson says: “The state of the science on intermittent fasting has evolved to the point that it now can be considered as one approach, with exercise and healthy food, to improving and maintaining health as a lifestyle approach.” (New England Journal of Medicine). However, it may take some time for followers to get accustomed to the practice.
8 major health benefits of intermittent fasting
1. Hormonal changes in the body
When you fast, as in, do not eat anything for a period of time, the hormonal activities in the body alter. The hormone levels in the body change, making the stored fat accessible. Insulin levels drop leading to fat burning. The cell repair process in the body gets a boost, too.
2. Weight loss
If you had thought hitting the gym and switching diets would be good for losing excess weight, you might want to give intermittent fasting a try. Studies have shown occasional fasting leads to the consumption of fewer calories. Of course, you have to ensure that you do not resort to binge eating. Fasting paves the way for fat burning and helps enhance metabolic rate as well.
3. Lower risk of diabetes
A significant percentage of the global population is suffering from type 2 diabetes and there are still more people who are at risk. For these people, doctors advise measures that help reduce insulin resistance. It has been shown that reduced insulin resistance is one of the major benefits of intermittent fasting and this leads to lower blood sugar levels. This has been seen in both animal studies as well as human trials.
4. Diminishes inflammation and oxidative stress
Health experts say that oxidative stress is a major culprit leading to the onset of several serious ailments in humans. It involves free radicals, a harmful type of unstable molecule capable of causing damage to protein and DNA. Studies have shown intermittent fasting may help boost the body’s capacity to combat oxidative stress. It also helps fight inflammation, a key factor behind many common diseases.
5. Cancer prevention
Intermittent fasting affects metabolism in certain beneficial ways that may reduce cancer risk. This has been indicated by findings of some animal and human studies. It also helps in reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.
6. Brain health
Another one of the benefits of intermittent fasting is increased brain health. It improves some metabolic features in the body that have long-lasting benefits for the brain. It may help protect the brain from neurological damage.
7. May protect against Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a major neurodegenerative disease that affects a significant part of the human population. As of now, there is no cure, so doctors focus on lifestyle intervention to protect against it. Animal studies have shown intermittent fasting may delay its onset or reduce the effects. In fact, those who already have Alzheimer’s disease have seen improvement in their symptoms after fasting.
8. May help you live longer
Intermittent fasting may help you live longer. Studies on lab rats have indicated this. It also helps in reducing the severity of age-induced conditions.
Proceed with caution
While intermittent fasting can be helpful for weight loss and practicing it fetches you several health benefits, you should not try it spontaneously. There are many ways to practice fasting. It depends on your lifestyle, diet, and health conditions. Some people benefit from fasting for a few hours a couple of days per week. There are others who fast on alternate days for a few hours. It would be good if you discuss it with a dietician or doctor before trying it out to be sure it’s right for you.