5 Scientific Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has been hitting mainstream media by storm. As the dogmatic idea of frequent meals is quickly becoming outdated, more and more scientific research is confirming just how powerful intermittent fasting is for health. In this article, I’m going to be discussing some interesting benefits of intermittent fasting which actually go beyond weight loss.
The first and most obvious benefit is the effect not eating has on your weight, which is…weight loss. But the question is, is fasting more advantageous than regular caloric restriction?
You must always remember that intermittent fasting is no magic cure for weight loss. Always keep the following hierarchy of needs in mind:
Always keep the following hierarchy of needs in mind:
Calories -> Macronutrients -> Micronutrients -> Timing (fasting) -> Supplementation
When it comes to weight loss, the overwhelming majority of evidence is not in favour of the insulin model of obesity having any sort of special metabolic advantage. The evidence is leaning towards caloric intake being the determining factor of weight loss (1, 2, 3).
This is especially true when protein (which is the most thermogenic macronutrient) is controlled for. Does this mean that we should oversimplify calories to help others lose weight? Probably not.
There is some evidence that suggests fasting may help promote more fat loss as opposed to weight loss. The reason being that fasting may help preserve more muscle or lean body mass.
A review study showed that fasting actually caused less muscle loss than normal caloric restriction (6).
This is still a subject which needs to be researched more thoroughly.
Increased Willpower And Less Decision Fatigue
Fasting is also a great way to ‘rehearse poverty’ as a means to increase your appreciation for what you currently have. The mental discipline and willpower involved in fasting for a prolonged period of time is empowering.
Today we live in a world of comfort and too much comfort is not a good thing.
We need discomfort in our lives and since we don’t experience the natural discomforts our body is expecting throughout the day (such as swimming across a lake to catch a fish) the idea is that fasting can act as a way to compensate for this.
Fasting Is Good For The Brain
The brain is a greedy organ and has an extremely high metabolic load relative to the rest of the body.
When I say metabolic functions I’m referring to things such as inflammation, oxidative stress and of course insulin resistance. This means that intermittent fasting is going to be very beneficial for brain health.
Fasting has been shown to lead to more brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF for the brain. BDNF is like fertiliser for new neurons (9). Having too little BDNF has direct effects on depression and other degenerative brain issues (10).
I’ve written about how ketosis may be advantageous for the brain before if you’re interested in this subject.
It makes sense that fasting would improve brain function. I want you to think about it logically.
If food is scarce, clearly you need to get more of it in order to survive. Therefore your requirement to think critically in order to strategize creative ways to gather and hunt for more food and survive to pass on your genes.
When you stay in a state of fasting ketosis for a prolonged period of time something called autophagy occurs.
Autophagy roughly translates from Greek into “self-eating”. Your body begins to eat itself. Sounds scary I know. Autophagy recycles waste from the body and repairs any oxidative stress (11).
Autophagy has anti-ageing properties and is also very important for muscle hypertrophy (growth).
When a rat’s physiology is manipulated so that it cannot experience autophagy, rats gain weight, they experience fatigued and have declined cognitive function (12).
Fasting Balances Hormones And Prevents Disease
Once you’ve been fasting for several hours some interesting changes begin to occur in the body.
Human growth hormone (HGH)
Growth hormone is also important for fracture healing, reduced cardiovascular disease risk and even an increase in mood and cognitive function. The benefits of growth hormone seem endless.
Insulin levels decrease, insulin sensitivity increases and these changes are all important for weight loss (16).
When you have insulin resistance this means that cells throughout the body aren’t using insulin as they should. Sugar ends up building in the blood as cells have difficulty in absorbing glucose.
This causes a lot of problems physically and cognitively. You don’t have to be obese to be insulin resistant too. This is a subtle critical difference to be aware of.
We want to become more insulin sensitivity meaning cells in the body are more responsive or sensitivity to insulin, meaning they can do their job and shuttle nutrients around the body as needed.
It’s well known that individuals who have low insulin levels tend to live longer.
Fasting is also being considered as a potential therapeutic exercise for cancer patients which is incredible. Recent research is in this field has been developing quickly.
Some research has suggested that the metabolic regulation of sirtuins (SIRT1 and SIRT3) are triggered while fasting which may be responsible for the cancer-fighting qualities of fasting (13).
It’s the same for ketogenic diets as cancer cells feed off glucose.
Intermittent fasting can be an effective strategy for losing weight. It’s no better than normal caloric restriction, but there is some evidence it may be advantageous for sparing muscle.
Fasting is going to increase your willpower and leave you with less decision fatigue throughout the day.
Fasting has clear effects on the brain such as neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) due to increased BDNF.
Fasting triggers autophagy (probably the best benefit of fasting) and can also be potentially therapeutic for cancer patients.
Fasting balances your hormones by increasing insulin sensitivity, increasing growth hormone and may prevent cancer through the activation of certain genes.