12 Reasons Intermittent Fasting Is Good For Health

by Charushila Biswas
ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition

Intermittent fasting is not only good for weight loss. It can also reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. Whether you choose to go on the 16/8 or the 5:2 intermittent fasting, you can reap 12 health benefits of intermittent fasting. Scroll down to know what they are.

12 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

1. Intermittent Fasting Can Lower Diabetes Risk

Diabetes affects about 463 million adults, 1.1 million children and adolescents, and 20 million live births in the world (2019 statistics) (1).

Diabetes may occur if the body fails to create insulin (type 1 diabetes) or becomes insulin resistant (type 2 diabetes) (2). Intermittent fasting is an effective strategy to reverse insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes.

Three people with type 2 diabetes fasted for 24 hours, three times a week. All of them had reduced blood sugar, weight, and waist circumference (3).

The Journal of Applied Physiology published a study to monitor the effect of intermittent fasting on people with type 2 diabetes. The scientists concluded that intermittent fasting increased insulin actionsevenfold and reduced blood glucose levels in the test subjects (4).

A study on diabetic rats showed that intermittent fasting improved glucose homeostasis (maintaining blood glucose levels) (5).

Another study concludes that intermittent fasting may be safe and tolerable in people with type 2 diabetes (6). Talk to your doctor before trying intermittent fasting if you have diabetes.

2. Intermittent Fasting May Improve Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death (7). Poor diet and lifestyle choices are major causes of poor heart health. Intermittent fasting is a less restrictive diet that can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

It does this by lowering LDL cholesterol, reducing abdominal fat, decreasing leptin (the hunger hormone) concentration, and improving blood lipid profile (8), (9).

A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology shows that people who fast intermittently have a reduced risk of coronary artery disease (10). Intermittent fasting also helped improve cardiac function and potentially reversed cardiomyopathy in mice studies (11).

Another study showed that intermittent fasting improved the survival rate of rats with chronic heart failure (12).

3. Intermittent Fasting Reduces Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is the build-up of harmful free oxygen radicals in the body. It occurs due to increased metabolic by-products in the body, dead cells, pollutants, and radiation (13).

 Antioxidant enzymes, like superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione, help reduce oxidative stress. Researchers have found that intermittent fasting increases antioxidant enzyme levels in people with obesity (14).

Studies show that intermittent fasting increases the level of glutathione and genes that reduce oxidative stress in lab animals (15), (16). Alternate day fasting in overweight adults showed a decrease in oxidative stress levels (17). Decreased oxidative stress, in turn, helps improve heart health and the risk of the following diseases.

4. Intermittent Fasting May Lower Cancer Risk

Cancer is the second leading cause of death. Chemotherapy, surgery, and novel strategies can help manage cancer.

New findings show that intermittent fasting without reducing calorie intake is a potential strategy to treat and prevent cancer (18). Fasting alters the growth factor, which affects the cancer cells’ ability to grow and thrive (19).

Women who fasted in the night showed reduced breast cancer risk in one study (20). Another study concluded that intermittent fasting could help people tolerate chemotherapy better (21).

Intermittent fasting also promotes autophagy (clearing dead cells), which can help reduce tumor cells and increase the effectiveness of radio and chemotherapy (22).

A comparative study on mice on a calorie-restricted diet and intermittent fasting stated that the intermittent fasting showed anti-cancer effects (23). However, more research is needed to determine the safety of intermittent fasting on people with cancer and/or undergoing chemotherapy (24).

5. Intermittent Fasting May Help Reduce Blood Pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension is a common genetic and/or lifestyle-related non-communicable disease. Intermittent fasting helps lower blood pressure (25), (26).

Women aged 46-62 years showed a decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure (27). Time-restricted intermittent fasting also helped lower blood pressure in men with pre-diabetes (28).

6. Intermittent Fasting May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that causes memory loss. Intermittent fasting is emerging as an effective nutritional approach to promote the brain’s ability to restructure its function and prevent memory loss (29).

Along with medication and workout, intermittent fasting can be used as a preventive strategy for Alzheimer’s disease (30).

A 4-week rat study showed that intermittent fasting may help prevent memory loss (31). Another study on mice concludes that intermittent fasting restores cell membrane protein polarity, which is beneficial for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s (32).

7. Intermittent Fasting Can Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is the first step to healing. But chronic inflammation can lead to obesity, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, etc. (33). Intermittent fasting increases adiponectin, a hormone that reduces inflammation (34).

Scientists also found that during Ramadan, people practicing intermittent fasting had fewer pro-inflammatory molecules that helped control body weight (35). Intermittent fasting also helped retain muscle mass and reduced inflammation in resistance-trained males (36).

Researchers studied the effects of intermittent fasting on mice. They found that intermittent fasting had an anti-inflammatory effect on the neuroimmune system (37). This dietary strategy also reduced inflammatory markers in mice liver and preserved brain and cognitive functions (38), (39).

8. Intermittent Fasting Promotes Autophagy

Autophagy is the removal of damaged cells, proteins, organelles. It occurs in response to toxin build-up and DNA damage.The inhibition of autophagy leads to DNA instability, inflammation, and diseases (40).

Intermittent fasting has shown to improve autophagy, which prevents tumor cell growth and increases chemotherapy tolerance (22). Autophagy is beneficial for various types of cancers, like breast cancer, leukemia, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, myeloma, etc. (41).

Short-term fasting also enhances therapeutic neuronal autophagy (42). A study on mice shows that intermittent fasting-induced autophagy decreases fat, prevents obesity, lowers lipid levels, and enhances muscle mass (43).

9. Intermittent Fasting May Help Reduce Belly Fat

Intermittent fasting is a popular and scientific way to lose weight (44). It lowers LDL cholesterol and BMI and has also been found to help reduce belly fat (45).

Scientists have found that intermittent fasting results in lower waist circumference as compared to regimens of people on a calorie-restricted diet (46). Combining intermittent fasting with the Mediterranean diet also resulted in lower abdominal fat in East Asian Americans in a study (47).

Another study on people with obesity confirms that intermittent fasting helps reduce waist circumference, fat, and free fat mass (48).

10. Intermittent Fasting May Improve Sleep Quality

Not being able to sleep at night or staying asleep (insomnia) is a sleep disorder. It increases the risk of various diseases and affects mental health (49). Fasting intermittently has shown to improve the quality of sleep in people with obesity (50).

A study concludes that Ramadan fasting increases daytime sleep (51). Researchers have found that fasting increases alertness but also helps increase sleep time (52). However, more controlled human studies with larger samples are required.

11. Intermittent Fasting Can Help Maintain Muscle Mass

Muscle loss kicks in after 30 years. Every year, 1% of muscle mass is lost (53). The mitochondria in the muscles help maintain metabolic health (54). Muscle loss slows down metabolism and leads to age-related obesity (55).

But fasting intermittently can help preserve lean muscle (56). However, it is recommended to include resistance training in the workout regiment to lose fat and retain lean muscle while doing intermittent fasting (57).

12. Intermittent Fasting May Increase Longevity

Intermittent fasting can promote healthy aging (58). This, in turn, can increase longevity. It is a scientific  functional aging nutritional strategy that induces autophagy (removal of cellular waste), may improve heart health, reduce inflammation, regulate blood pressure, help reduce the risk of various types of cancer, prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia, and is good for people with type 2 diabetes (3), (8), (9), (18), (22), (25), (59), (60).

Conclusion

Intermittent fasting is not a fad method for weight loss. It is scientifically proven to aid weight loss and improve health. Talk to your doctor to know if you should fast intermittently and how often in a week you should do it.

There are various ways you can do intermittent fasting – 16/8 intermittent fasting,  5:2 intermittent fasting, warrior diet, one meal a day (OMAD) diet, and water fasting. Try any of them, and you will start seeing beneficial results over a period.

Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions

What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?

There are many benefits of intermittent fasting. It can aid weight loss, lower blood sugar and blood pressure, reduce the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and inflammation. It may also prevent muscle loss, improve sleep quality and time, reduce belly fat, and increase longevity.

How often to fast intermittently?

You may start with fasting once a week and then go on to make it a part of your lifestyle. However, you must talk to your doctor before starting to fast intermittently. Get an expert opinion on whether intermittent fasting will help you or will deteriorate an already existing medical condition.

How long does it take intermittent fasting to work?

It will take at least 2-4 weeks, depending on how many days a week you fast intermittently, your medical history, and current medications.

How do you do intermittent fasting?

You may follow the 16/8 intermittent fasting formula. You eat anything for a period of 8 hours and then fast for 16 hours. If you eat at 10 a.m., you can eat until 6 p.m. After that, you must fast for the rest of the evening, night, and early morning.

Who should not follow intermittent fasting?

Do not follow intermittent fasting if you have hypoglycemia, are pregnant or lactating, or have been instructed by a licensed physician to not fast.

What are the side effects of intermittent fasting?

If you are fasting intermittently for the first time, here are some side effects you may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Hunger pangs
  • Weakness
  • Headache

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Charushila Biswas

Charushila Biswas is a Senior Content Writer and an ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition. She is an alumni of VIT University, Vellore and has worked on transgenic wheat as a part of her Masters dissertation from NRCPB (IARI), New Delhi. After completing her Masters, she developed a passion for nutrition and fitness, which are closely related to human psychology. This prompted her to author a review article in 2015. She has written over 200 articles on Fitness and Nutrition. In her leisure time, Charushila loves to cook and enjoys mobile photography.
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