Healthy Living: Intermittent Fasting

Nutritionist and wellness coach, Deborah Enos stopped by Q13 to share her thoughts on intermittent fasting and some healthy options if it's something you've considered trying for either weight-loss, digestion or inflammation.

Since our on-air segment was limited to just a few minutes, below are some additional notes Deborah used as a guide from Dr. Josh Axe, a wellness physician

What is intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is hardly a new concept. It’s been used for centuries during times when food was scarce and it even plays a central role in many major religions. In fact, once a year, Muslims observe Ramadan, a month of fasting from dawn until sunset.

It’s difficult to define intermittent fasting as there’s not just one correct method for how to fast. In fact, there are many different variations of intermittent fasting that are used around the world. Each follows a different eating pattern that is often strictly adhered to in order to achieve physical or even spiritual results.

How does it work?

The extensive research on the concept of intermittent fasting suggests it functions in two different ways to improve various facets of health. First, intermittent fasting results in lowered levels of oxidative stress to cells throughout the body.

Second, practicing fasting improves your body’s ability to deal with stress at a cellular level. Intermittent fasting activates cellular stress response pathways similar to very mild stressors, acting as mild stimulants for your body’s stress response. As this occurs consistently, your body is slowly reinforced against cellular stress and is then less susceptible to cellular aging and disease development.

Who should avoid intermittent fasting?

If you suffer from low blood sugar, for example, going without eating all day may lead to dangerous drops in blood sugar causing symptoms like shakiness, heart palpitations and fatigue. If you have diabetes, it’s best to work with your doctor to determine if intermittent fasting is right for you.

If you have a history of eating disorders, this may also not be ideal for you as it may encourage unhealthy behaviors and trigger symptoms. If you are a child or teenager and still growing, intermittent fasting is not recommended either.

Those who are sick may also want to reconsider intermittent fasting as it can deprive your body of the steady stream of nutrients that it needs to heal and get better.

Intermittent fasting for women? Of course, those who are pregnant should also avoid intermittent fasting and focus instead on a nutritious diet rich in vitamins and minerals. And certain women may encounter hormone issues if they intermittent fast for days on end — they may benefit from intermittent fasting only a few days a week rather than every day, for example.

Additionally, if you have gallstone disease, fasting may actually increase the risk of gallbladder problems and should be avoided.

Finally, studies show that fasting may alter the levels of your thyroid hormones. If you suffer from any thyroid issues, you may want to reconsider intermittent fasting to avoid alterations in these important hormones.

If you’re physically active, intermittent fasting and working out is okay. While you can exercise during fast days, don’t push yourself too hard and remember to drink plenty of water. If you’re fasting for longer than 72 hours, however, it’s advisable to limit physical activity.

Promotes Weight Loss

One of the major intermittent fasting benefits is its ability to rev up fat burning and help the pounds slide off. In fact, many people prefer intermittent fasting to traditional diets because it doesn’t require you to meticulously measure your foods and track the calories and grams consumed.

IMF results in increased fat burning and fast weight loss by forcing your body to use up fat stores as fuel. When you eat, your body uses glucose (sugar) as its primary source of energy and stores whatever is left over as glycogen in your muscles and liver.

When you don’t give your body a steady stream of glucose, it begins breaking down the glycogen to use as fuel. After the glycogen has been depleted, your body seeks out alternative sources of energy, such as fat cells, which it then breaks down to help power your body.

This is similar to the ketogenic diet, in which you deprive your body of carbohydrates and force it to use up stored fat for energy.

Another study focused on the 16/8 method of intermittent fasting showed that it significantly reduced fat mass while retaining both muscle mass and strength.

Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is a normal immune response to injury. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can lead to chronic disease. Some research has even linked inflammation to conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.

A study published in Nutrition Research followed 50 individuals observing Ramadan and showed that they had decreased levels of some inflammatory markers during Ramadan fasting. Another study in 2015 found that a longer duration of nighttime fasting was associated with a decrease in markers of inflammation. In the journal Rejuvenation Research, alternate-day fasting helped reduce markers of oxidative stress.

While more research is needed, these studies provide promising evidence showing that IMF may help reduce inflammation and fight off chronic disease.

Keeps Your Heart Healthy

One of the most impressive intermittent fasting benefits is its favorable effect on heart health. Studies show that intermittent fasting improves your heart health by lowering certain heart disease risk factors.

In one study, fasting was shown to influence several components of heart health. It increased good HDL cholesterol and decreased both bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

One animal study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry showed that intermittent fasting caused an increase in levels of adiponectin. Adiponectin is a protein involved in the metabolism of fat and sugar that may be protective against heart disease and heart attacks.

In fact, in one study, rats who fasted every other day were nearly 66 percent more likely to survive a heart attack than those on a normal diet.