People around the globe have been fasting—or choosing to abstain from eating and drinking—since ancient times. Today, the fad is back and as big as ever, but what’s all the fuss about?
Intermittent fasting involves abstaining, or severely limiting, food intake for specific periods of time, typically longer than 12 hours. There are various types of fasting regimens, and though they’re not a cure-all for any ailment that rears its ugly head, recent research has shown some promising benefits.
Fasting is not for everyone, but if you’re healthy, here are some reasons you might consider giving intermittent fasting a try.
Intermittent fasting is showing promise in the fight against hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. By stimulating the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein which can stimulate the release of acetylcholine, intermittent fasting creates a chain reaction that expands the blood vessels and reduces heart rate. This helps relax the body and lower blood pressure.
Boosts brain function
When you fast for long periods of time you stop receiving energy from food. To compensate, the body produces ketones. This metabolic swap from glucose (from food) to ketones is beneficial for brain energy and may even lead to improved cognition. Temporarily abstaining from food intake also reduces the level of toxic materials flowing through the body, and it saves you energy that would otherwise be spent on food digestion. Once the body adjusts and the brain has access to a cleaner bloodstream, intermittent fasters may experience clearer thoughts, better memory, and sharper senses.
May help fight cancer
One of intermittent fasting’s many potential health benefits lies in its ability to help battle cancer. Studies on animals have found that intermittent fasting can strengthen the cancer-fighting properties of chemotherapy and radiation, and slow tumor growth by temporarily cutting off its energy source. Intermittent fasting may also play a role in reducing the risk of developing cancer by contributing to the maintenance of a healthy weight.
Supports weight management
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health, and research has shown that intermittent fasting can help. In fact, intermittent fasting can be as effective as a low-calorie diet for weight loss. As an added benefit, the increase in ketones stimulated by fasting helps stifle your appetite so you can make it through your no-food stint without getting too hangry.
Give your stomach a break—your heart might thank you! New studies have been exploring a link between intermittent fasting and improved cholesterol levels. Findings show that fasting may affect the way our bodies metabolize cholesterol, decreasing the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL)—or bad cholesterol, which is good news for the heart.
May help treat and prevent diabetes
Much like its effects on cholesterol, intermittent fasting is thought to improve the way our bodies metabolize sugar, which can reduce your risk of developing diabetes. For individuals with diabetes, or prediabetes, studies have shown that intermittent fasting can improve insulin sensitivity, lower insulin levels, and help control blood sugar—though it’s important to speak with your doctor before deciding to give it a go.
Who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep? Recent research shows that fasting may be a promising option to help you get it. Eating healthy, nutrient-rich foods at set mealtimes during intermittent fasting is thought to reinforce the body’s natural circadian rhythms, which manage biological functions such as metabolism, appetite, and the sleep-wake cycle. However, timing matters, as eating heavy meals too close to bedtime may have the opposite effect.
Fights oxidative stress
Oxidative stress is notorious for breaking down our cells and tissue, but intermittent fasting may up our defenses. In a five-week study, researchers noted that time-restricted feeding in the morning (eating within a six-hour window, early in the day) led to lower oxidative stress levels, even without any weight loss. This effect was associated with the metabolic shift—from glucose to ketones—that occurred when fasting for 18 hours between feeding.
Recent studies have revealed that short-term calorie restriction may have an antidepressant effect, with fasting accompanied by better mood, perceived well-being, and even a feeling of euphoria. While intermittent fasting may be a powerful way to rejuvenate the mind, and body, more long-term studies are needed to understand its effects over time.
May help increase life and health span
Eat less, live longer? Maybe so. Research shows that intermittent fasting may be a way to increase longevity and delay aging. Although more human studies are needed to determine its effectiveness and the mechanisms behind it, its potential benefits for combatting hypertension and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity could all contribute to its effects for a long and healthy life.