Intermittent fasting is the latest health and fitness trend. People use it for weight loss, to boost their health, and also to simplify their lives. In a previous article, we talked about coffee and if it breaks your intermittent fast or not. Several nutritional pieces of research have shown that intermittent fasting has benefits for your brain and body. It even prolongs life (1,2,3).
This article examines 9 key health benefits of intermittent fasting based on scientific research.
1) Intermittent Fasting Alters Gene, Cell, and Hormonal Functions
A lot of things happen in the body when a person stays away from food for a while.
For instance, major cellular repair processes are initiated. Your hormonal levels also change to ease access to fat stored in the body.
The following changes take places in your body when you are undergoing a fast:
2) Intermittent Fasting Burns Belly Fat and Enhances Weight Loss
Many proponents of intermittent fasting do it because they believe that it promotes weight loss (12).
It is important to note that intermittent fasting may help you to take in fewer calories.
Also, intermittent fasting benefits the hormonal function by speeding up weight loss.
High levels of growth hormones, low insulin levels, and high amounts of noradrenaline (norepinephrine) increase the breakdown of fat and boost its energy use.
This explains why short-term fasting boosts metabolic rate by almost 3.6 – 14%, thus enhancing the burning of calories (13,14).
3) Intermittent Fasting Lowers Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes by Reducing insulin Resistance
Recently, there has been an increase in the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes.
The primary feature of Type 2 diabetes is high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) due to insulin resistance.
It is important to note that whatever reduces insulin resistance can also help lower blood sugar levels and thus protect against type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that intermittent fasting helps with insulin resistance and facilitates the reduction of blood sugar levels (15).
Studies on intermittent fasting involving human subjects have shown that fasting blood sugar goes down by 3-6% during intermittent fasting. Also, fasting insulin reduces by at least 20% (16).
The implication is that intermittent fasting may be helpful for people who have a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
4) It Reduces Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is a major contributor to aging and several chronic ailments (17).
It involves free radicals, which are unstable molecules that react with important molecules and cause damage to them (18).
Many studies have shown that intermittent fasting can enhance the body’s resistance to oxidative stress (19,20).
Also, studies have shown that intermittent fasting has anti-inflammatory effects, and inflammation is a major driver of most diseases (20,21,22).
5) It May Improve Heart Health
Heart disease is a major cause of death globally (23).
Studies have shown that several health markers are linked to a high or low risk of heart disease.
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting improves the risk factors for heart disease, such as LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammatory markers, blood triglycerides, and blood sugar levels (15,24,25,26).
But it is worth noting that most of these studies are animal-based. There is a need for more studies on the effect of intermittent fasting on heart health in humans before any recommendations can be made.
6) It Induces Repair Mechanisms in Cells
When you are fasting, your body initiates a process called autophagy. This process involves the removal of cellular waste (10,28).
Autophagy involves the breakdown of cells, as well as the metabolism of broken and dysfunctional proteins that accumulate inside cells over time.
Autophagy can offer protection against some diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and cancer (29,30).
7) It Can Help Prevent Cancer
Cancer is a chronic condition. Its major feature is the uncontrollable growth of cells in the body.
Fasting has many benefits on the body’s metabolism. These effects may help to reduce the risk of cancer.
There is certainly a need for human studies, but animal studies conducted so far have shown that intermittent fasting can prevent cancer (31,32,33,34).
There is some proof that fasting can ease the side effects of chemotherapy (35).
8) It May Improve Brain Health
You see, what is good for your body is equally good for your brain.
Research has shown that intermittent fasting boosts those metabolic activities that improve brain health.
Metabolic features in this category include reduced inflammation, oxidative stress, reduced insulin resistance, and a lowered blood sugar level.
Rodent studies have shown that intermittent fasting enhances the growth of nerve cells, which theoretically should be beneficial for brain function (36,37).
It also boosts the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (36,38,39). A deficiency of this hormone contributes to depression and other mental conditions (40).
Results from animal studies show that intermittent fasting has protective effects against stroke-induced brain damage (41).
9) It Could Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder and is very common.
Currently, there’s no cure for it, so you should prevent it from showing up.
Studies carried out on rodents have shown that Alzheimer’s disease onset can be delayed by intermittent fasting. It may also make it less severe (42).
Several case reports have shown that lifestyle interventions, including intermittent fasts, can cause significant improvements in the symptoms experienced by most Alzheimer’s patients (43).
Also, animal studies have shown that fasting has protective effects against the development of other neurodegenerative ailments, like Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (44,45).
More human research, however, needs to be done. There are many health benefits of intermittent fasting. We hope that after reading this article that you might consider giving a shot and getting healthier.