Over the past few years, intermittent fasting (IF) has become a popular protocol to support overall health — and for good reason. Decades of research seem to show a range of benefits, from weight loss and metabolic health improvements to possible anti-aging properties.
However, IF may not be right for everyone. In some cases, it can even be harmful. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, may not be compatible with fasting, and women may need to be especially aware of its effects. Because of this, it’s vital for anyone considering IF to first gain a complete understanding of how it may affect their unique health profile.
What is IF?
IF is a regimen that involves abstaining from food for certain intervals of time. Doing so has the potential to promote weight loss, boost mental acuity, and improve overall health. There are numerous ways to structure fasting, but the following are the most common:
Fasting for 12 hours or longer each day, then eating normally for the remainder of the day. One popular form is the 16/8 method, which involves 16 hours of daily fasting and eight hours of normal eating. Most of the time, a majority of the fasting portion of the day occurs overnight.
The 5:2 Diet
Eating normally for five days out of the week, then eating between 500 and 600 calories for each of the two remaining days.
Eat Stop Eat
Fasting for 24 hours twice a week, then eating normally the remainder of the week.
Other less structured forms of IF involve eating only one meal a day (typically dinner) or skipping meals spontaneously.
What are the benefits of IF?
While the health benefits of fasting have long been documented in yeast, animals and humans, researchers are still debating the exact reasons for these benefits, and whether they continue over the long-term. For instance, it’s still not completely known whether fasting is any more effective than a traditional calorie-restriction diet.
That said, IF is a simple and accessible strategy that researchers have linked with numerous health benefits:
Aids Weight Loss
Typical diets often involve counting calories or eating and/or avoiding certain types of food, which can be difficult for many people to follow. But by focusing on when people are eating, rather than what, IF offers a more approachable framework for reducing calories. Research also shows evidence that IF may further support weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness after eating. However, total weight loss may actually occur due to loss of muscle. One recent study found that time-restricted eating over a period of three months produced muscle loss.
Reduces Oxidative Stress
A target of cellular repair, oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals. This can cause damage that can lead to a number of diseases, including diabetes, atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels), heart disease, and cancer. However, studies have shown that fasting induces chemical changes that reduce oxidative stress throughout the body, decreasing the chances of long-term damage and disease.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to multiple diseases, from arthritis to Alzheimer’s. Traditional treatments such as steroids or anti-inflammatory medications can come with numerous negative side effects, such as high blood pressure and gut dysbiosis. Fortunately, recent research is uncovering the anti-inflammatory properties of IF. By reducing the number of monocytes, a type of white blood cell that can induce inflammation, time restricted fasting has been shown to be a safe and natural protocol to help reduce inflammatory markers in the body.
The continuous repair of cells allows the body to adapt better to stress and protect itself against pathogens — yet this essential function deteriorates as we age. IF and calorie restriction have been shown to be the most potent ways to promote long-term cellular repair by upregulating autophagy (clearing out damaged cells) in tissues and organs. This slows aging at a cellular level and can promote longevity.
What are the downsides of IF?
Despite its buzz and purported benefits, IF may still not be right for everyone. For one, going long periods of time without eating can come with real side effects. These range from general feelings of hunger, fatigue, and irritability to more serious issues such as dehydration, difficulty sleeping, and digestive issues.
People with certain medical conditions may find fasting to be particularly challenging, and even dangerous. People with diabetes, for instance, should pay close attention to blood sugar levels during a fasting protocol. People with low blood pressure face a similar issue. Those with a history of eating disorders may also want to avoid fasting, as it could negatively affect their relationship with food. Women who are trying to conceive or who are currently pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid dieting altogether, unless specifically recommended by their doctor.
In general, women should take particular caution before embracing an intermittent fasting regimen. Practiced without proper regulation, for instance, fasting can exacerbate existing hormone imbalances, leading to chronic fatigue, sleep disruptions, thyroid issues, and possibly even reproductive challenges and infertility.
Is IF right for you?
IF can be a powerful tool to promote health and longevity, as research continues to dig deeper into the exact mechanisms at work in the body. All the same, determining whether it is right for you can still be difficult. With expertise in whole-body care, a Precision Health Care provider can help you understand how IF could benefit your health, or whether you should proceed with caution. Either way, it is important to consider following a personalized plan to optimal health based on your unique health profile and longevity goals.
Schedule a meet and greet with us today to speak with our providers and get started on the road to optimal health.