Unlike most popular diets, intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating which specifies when you should eat instead of what you should eat. However, considering how impactful caloric restriction is, this way of eating can quickly affect insulin production, blood pressure, and adipose tissue metabolism. But is intermittent fasting healthy? How often should you rely on this method, and what are the health benefits of intermittent fasting. Let’s find out in this article.
Many people are experimenting with intermittent fasting for the purposes of weight loss, but there are numerous legitimate reasons for considering this dietary approach.
This seems only natural, since the human body has evolved to function for prolonged periods of time without a constant and steady stream of caloric intake. Back in the hunter gatherer period, our ancestors would eat in abundance, but also endure hours and perhaps days of hunger. In fact, it is much more natural to eat once or twice per day, than rely on a steady regimen of 5 timely meals.
But before we tackle these questions, it is appropriate to define what intermittent fasting is.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a window of hunger, followed by a return to normal eating. The frequency of this pattern and its duration can vary depending on the method, but we can generally discern between three most popular versions of the practice.
The 16-8 intermittent fasting
The first method is the 16-8 which involves a sixteen hour long fast, followed by a period of eight hours where you can return to your usual caloric consumption. Whatever else might be said, it is the easiest method to follow, since you will only be skipping breakfast which is not a particularly outlandish proposition.
The next method is the eat-stop-eat, which implies an entire 24-hour window of hunger, after which you return to a normal caloric consumption. This is a tad bit harder to follow, since strenuous work or inhospitable climate can easily take their toll on a calorie-deprived body. In some circles, this method is known as the zero-calorie alternate-day fasting.
The 5-2 method of fasting
The 5-2 is a simple regimen which makes you eat 500-600 calories twice per week, and you have the remaining 5 days for eating just as normally would. This is also a way to ease into the intermitting fasting lifestyle, as you are not restricted to consume your caloric intake within a specified time window.
Is intermittent fasting healthy?
Health is measured by two approaches, and both have valid indicators that signal whether the body is doing better or worse.
The first approach is to access what takes place during the intervention period, i.e. this specific dietary pattern. If you feel good, lack any notable signs of discomfort or illness, and have your vitals close to the standard of health, then by all means you can describe what you do as healthy.
The second approach, which takes longer to implement, is accessing whether or not any significant changes occur over the long run. So, for example, if you star to fast in January, it would be wise to check your progress three or four weeks in, at the end of the month.
You can check your blood pressure, your blood glucose, cholesterol, inflammatory markers, weight and so forth… there are dozens of parameters to cross off the list, including mental health and subjective evaluations of how you feel most of the time. If significant changes occur in any of these parameters, it would be wise to talk to your clinician and diagnose the root of the problem.
In any case, it is recommended to talk to a doctor before starting any radical dietary change, and intermittent fasting can surely classify as such.
That being said, here is what to expect from intermittent fasting, in a more general sense. Do note that outcomes vary for different people, and one is beneficial to one can often be debilitating for another.
What to expect from intermittent fasting?
Studies have observed many health benefits of intermittent fasting including gene expressions related to longevity and protection against disease, improved insulin sensitivity and overall drop in insulin production, cellular repair through autophagy, and several-fold increase in HGH (human growth hormone) levels.
Similarly, through a reduction in calories and a number of hormonal changes, the body experiences notable weight loss. Intermittent fasting weight loss is mainly initiated by lower insulin levels which make stored fat more accessible for energy expenditure. Additionally, through the release of the hormone norepihephrine, fat burning is accelerated, making your metabolism up to 14% faster.
It is important to note that weight reduction is primarily due to loss of stored fluids as well as fat deposits, which significantly improves your health. This process, which results with smaller waist circumference, is ultimately responsible for decreased production of adipokines, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Improved heart health
In absence of a more serious condition, heart health is observed through a combination of markers, such as LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose, insulin resistance, or inflammatory markers as C-reactive protein (CRP). Blood pressure, pulse, and physical capacity also act as reliable markers when observed over the long run.
Having said that, when we ask ourselves is intermittent fasting healthy, thinking of the heart, we are inevitably asking about the state of all these markers.
So far, the relevant literature suggests that intermittent fasting is healthy for your heart, since it is related to improvements along the line of these markers.
Lower risk of cancer
It is known that intermittent fasting makes tumor cells more sensitive to treatment, and it is also known that caloric restriction can affect oxidative stress associated with ageing, through decrease in mitochondrial generation of reactive oxygen species, thus preventing certain types of cancer from developing.
Possible side effects
The side effects of this type of eating pattern are numerous, and most depend on your current health status or demographic characteristics. For example, women often report dramatic changes in their menstrual cycle after adopting intermittent fasting as a lifestyle choice.
Furthermore, people with low blood pressure, or those who are on a certain medication, or are trying to conceive should all avoid intermittent fasting before consulting with a medical professional. To err on the side of caution, it is advisable that all of you who want to fast should first talk to someone who is licensed in the field of medicine, and who is familiar with your medical history.
To wrap this up, let me summarize the answer to the question that we posed at the beginning – is intermittent fasting healthy? In most cases, and when monitored closely, intermittent fasting can be a very beneficial change in your dietary patterns, resulting with numerous health benefits. However, as with any other radical lifestyle change, it is important to ease into it, or consult a medical professional before jumping right in.