You may have had a taste of fasting intermittently during times when you’ve delayed eating and skipped a meal, whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner. Fasting has had evolutionary benefits for our hunter-gatherer ancestors in the Stone Age. Before supermarkets and the ease of access of food in this era, fasting was the default eating pattern for hunter-gatherers and rates of survival benefited those who were able to withstand an extended period of time without consuming food.
The ability to function at a high level, both physically and mentally, during extended periods without food may have been of fundamental importance in our evolutionary history.” – Mattson et al., 2014
Scientific studies have shown positive health benefits for people who have incorporated intermittent fasting or time-restricted feeding into their lifestyle which include improved heart health, insulin resistance, weight loss and increase in energy levels. Common intermittent fasting methods include daily 16-hour fasting or 24-hour fasting. Continue reading to learn more about these 4 powerful health benefits of intermittent fasting.
Benefit #1: Improved Heart HealthHeart disease is one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide, for both men and women. (1) It can take form as several cardiovascular conditions including heart attack, stroke, and coronary heart disease – all of which can be linked to inflammation and the buildup of cholesterol-rich plaque inside the walls of our arteries.
Researchers from the University of Illinois that conducted a study on obese men and women who fasted for 24 hours in the span of 8 weeks, found that they exhibited lower levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL-C, low-density lipoprotein) and maintained “good” cholesterol (HDL-C, high-density lipoprotein), and lowered levels of triglycerides. (2) Cholesterol and triglycerides are two types of lipids produced in our blood that work in tandem to help build and maintain our cells, assist in hormone production, and supply our bodies with energy. Having elevated levels of LDL and triglycerides, that which can be affected by factors such as smoking, poor diet, obesity and sedentary lifestyles, may increase one’s risk of heart disease.
Benefit #2: Improved Insulin ResistanceStudies have shown that intermittent fasting has had a positive effect on lowering insulin levels and resistance. In 2018, researchers at the University of Alabama conducted a study on a sample of obese men diagnosed with prediabetes. They were separated into two groups with varying intermittent fasting schedules with Group 1 having an eating window of 12 hours and fasting for 12 hours, while the other, Group 2, had a shorter eating window of 6 hours and prolonged duration of fasting for 18 hours. Over the course of 5 weeks, these men showed lower insulin levels. (3)
Another controlled study that was done on a sample of 100 women, who were overweight and obese, also showed reduced insulin levels by 29% and insulin resistance by 19%. (4) Abnormal insulin levels can produce an array of health conditions and can put one at risk for Type I or Type II diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, weight gain, increased blood pressure, and increased risk of cancer due to cell proliferation that excessive insulin can catalyze.
Benefit #3: Weight LossIntermittent fasting decreases insulin levels and boosts metabolism and norepinephrine, which helps the body break down fat and facilitate weight loss. In 2018, a study in overweight adults, showed an average weight loss of 15 lbs in the duration of three to twelve months. (5)
Intermittent fasting has also been shown to reduce appetite, thus, limiting one’s calorie intake which promotes weight loss. Another study in 24 healthy men and women looked at the effects of a long, 36-hour fast on eating habits. Despite consuming extra calories on the post-fast day, participants were able to significantly decrease their total caloric intake by 1,900 calories. (6)
Benefit #4: Improved Energy LevelsYou’ve probably heard of the old adage, “Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell!”. Studies have shown that regular intermittent fasting, boosts mitochondrial biogenesis, which is the process that simulates the growth of new mitochondria. Our mitochondria acts as a power bank, turning the foods we eat into the energy, physical and mental, that we extend throughout the day. (7)
Considerations Before Trying Intermittent FastingThis pattern of eating is not suitable for everyone. With all fasting variants, you may encounter common symptoms when adapting to intermittent fasting such as hunger, headaches, insomnia and lowered energy levels. If you have had:
- a history with eating disorders
- are experiencing nutritional deficiencies or
- if you are a woman who is pregnant, breastfeeding or experiencing fertility issues