Intermittent Fasting — Does It Really Work?

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Few things taught in the Bible have seen such an uptake recently as fasting. Open the pages of any fitness and health magazine and you’re bound to find the words “Intermittent Fasting” somewhere. So what is this all about?

tl;dr - click to read summary
Research shows that Intermittent Fasting has effects on insulin levels and the production of growth hormones in the body.

Therefore, it may have long term health benefits, although no research shows significant different to other type of diets with reduced calorie intake.

Pregnant women and Diabetes patients should avoid Intermittent Fasting.

First, let’s look at how Wikipedia defines Intermittent Fasting:

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a pattern of eating that alternates between periods of fasting (usually meaning consumption of water and sometimes low-calorie drinks such as black coffee) and non-fasting.

So this means that Intermittent Fasting is not a diet per se, but an eating pattern, designed to improve health and longevity. Despite the marketing hype surrounding Intermittent Fasting, the research is still in its infancy – but it shows some promising benefits.

Intermittent Fasting Regimes

intermittent fasting

There are three popular fasting methods:

  • The 5:2 method. With this regime, you are not limited in your calorie intake for five days of the week but restrict your calorie intake to 400-600 calories per day for two days.
  • Alternate Day Fasting (ADF). ADF requires that you eat what you want on one day and keep your intake below 600 calories the following day.
  • The Lean Gains method. Basically, you skip breakfast. Men fast for 16 hours each day and women for 14 hours .For example, if your last meal is at 8pm tonight, you wouldn’t eat again until 10am (women) or 12pm (men) tomorrow.  During fasting you may only consume water or other non-caloric beverages.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Supposedly Work?

water

The main idea is that during fasting,  the body is more likely to pull energy from stored fat, rather than the glucose in your blood stream or glycogen in your muscles/liver.

Fasting induces a cellular stress response (similar to that induced by exercise) in which cells up-regulate the expression of genes that increase the capacity to cope with stress and resist disease and aging.

Growth hormone production is increased during fasting, while insulin production is reduced. Increased insulin sensitivity retards aging and diseases that are associated with loss of insulin sensitivity, such as Type II Diabetes. This makes a workout supposedly more effective at both muscle building and fat loss after fasting.

What Does The Research Say?

diabetes

Most of the Intermittent Fasting research has centered on IGF-1, a protein produced by the liver when it is stimulated by growth hormones circulating in the blood.  High levels of IGF-1  are believed significantly to increase the risks of colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. Low levels of IGF-1 reduce those risks. It turns out that IGF-1 levels can be lowered by what you eat and this outcome has several benefits attached to it, especially for adults in their 40s.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark,  suggest that fasting every other day provides the body with enough stress to activate the SIRT1 gene — which is linked to insulin sensitivity that leads to cellular release of fat into the bloodstream for use as energy by the muscles.

Research by Mark Hartman and colleagues indicates short-term fasting can trigger production of human growth hormone (HGH) in men, and reduce oxidative stress that contributes to disease and aging; benefits brain health, mental well-being, and clarity of thought.

Now, most of these effects have been demonstrated as well with other diets that reduce the calorie intake.

Potential Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting

At this time, little is known about possible side effects. Anecdotal reports of effects include:

  • sleeping difficulties
  • bad breath (a known problem with low carbohydrate diets)
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • daytime sleepiness

Intermittent Fasting is not advised for pregnant women and people with insulin-related health conditions, such as diabetes.

Remember to consult a registered dietician or physician before undertaking drastic changes in your diet.

So What’s The Conclusion?

We think there are three points to keep in mind:

  • Intermittent Fasting is an eating pattern, not a diet. What you eat, the quantity and quality of foods, is still more important than when you eat it.
  • If you have issues with portion control or any other eating disorders, Intermittent Fasting is not for you.
  • If you are healthy, try it! What may work for one person may not work for another, because of differences in lifestyle, habits and genetics. Keep in mind that you don’t have to follow any regimen strictly to the point. For example, to enhance your insulin sensitivity, try delaying or skipping breakfast.

If you’re losing fat and not feeling hungry or lethargic, then continue with what you’re doing!

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