9 Researched Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

There are several approaches to intermittent fasting and specific ways to approach it

(Nok Lek/Shutterstock)

By Dr. Jingduan Yang | Jan 5 2023

By Dr. Jingduan Yang

Jan 5 2023

Through intermittent fasting and controlling the intake of calories, the human body can increase the amount and function of stem cells, which are vital to delaying the aging process and reducing inflammation.

What is intermittent fasting? What are the benefits of intermittent fasting? How do we know if we are suitable for doing intermittent fasting?

“Fasting” means not eating or drinking anything that contains calories for a period of time. One can drink water, black coffee, or other calorie-free drinks (though it’s best to avoid artificial sweeteners).

Types of Fasting Methods

Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey told the press that he eats only one meal a day, between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., which consists of proteins and vegetables. Fasting helped him feel more focused and able to devote more attention to everyday life.

Skipping breakfast and lunch, Dorsey said he gained more time to focus on important things. This intermittent fasting method is known as “samurai fasting,” or OMAD (one meal a day). In ancient times, samurais didn’t eat three meals a day but had one huge dinner instead. This method has people drink only water, black coffee, and low-calorie beverages within a 20-hour period, and consume high-calorie food within the remaining four-hour window of the day.

However, the evening may not be the healthiest time to have a huge meal, according to some.

Chris Pratt, star of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” told his fans that intermittent fasting is a “must try.” Pratt claims that fasting helped him play the superhero roles well in his movies. He said he usually drinks coffee and exercises before noon and doesn’t eat anything after 8 p.m. His intermittent fasting method is called 16/8 intermittent fasting or “time-restricted eating.” This method involves limiting the intake of foods and beverages to a set window of eight hours per day. Some suggest that 18 hours of fasting, rather than 16 hours, produces a better result.

Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel lost excess body weight by fasting for two days each week. Though he did consume some food and drink during the two days (Mondays and Thursdays), Kimmel kept his intake to within 500 calories.

Kimmel said he got the idea from a BBC documentary about a 138-year-old Indian man whose secret to longevity was restricting calorie intake through fasting. He introduced the fasting method as the 5:2 diet: having five-day regular meals and eating fewer than 500 calories for two days.

There are many celebrities, bodybuilders, and online influencers sharing and promoting their experience of intermittent fasting.

Although they may not be experts in medical or health fields, they do have great influence on the public by sharing their personal experiences.

Does celebrity endorsement make intermittent fasting just a healthy trend? Or is it scientifically supported? How are real experts on the topic weighing in?

Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine released a collaborative review titled “Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease.” The comprehensive review took a close look at research results looking at intermittent fasting across several studies.

Three kinds of intermittent fasting methods were studied, including alternate-day fasting, the 5:2 diet, and OMAD.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

What are the benefits of intermittent fasting, according to this in-depth review?

1. Anti-Aging

Eating less can help our body produce fewer harmful metabolites, including free radicals. More importantly, it can improve the reactivity of cells and organs, promote the regulation of blood sugar and pressure resistance, and simultaneously suppress inflammatory responses.

A free radical is a type of unstable molecule that is made during normal cell metabolism as chemical changes that take place in a cell. Free radicals can build up in cells and cause damage to other molecules, such as DNA, lipids, and proteins. This damage may increase the risk of cancer and other diseases.

The lifestyle of having three meals a day, occasional snacks in between, and mostly sitting is harmful to our bodies, while more exercise and taking in sufficient or limited calories is beneficial to health. Intermittent fasting protects and heals our bodies.

2. Weight Loss

Normally, the body gets energy through glucose transformed from the consumption of carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. In overeating, the liver will transform excess glucose into fat and store it up. Overeating, inadequate exercise, and too much sitting causes fat to be stored in our bodies. Fasting for 10 to 14 hours or more causes the body to consume stored glycogen first, then burn fat. The dissolution of fat will produce ketone bodies, which offer energy to our brain and play the important role of transmitting signals between organs and participating in the function of cells and organs.

3. Igniting Autophagy

During fasting, a series of biochemical reactions occur in the body, including promoting antioxidant mechanisms, recovering the material of inheritance DNA, increasing protein quality, increasing ATP synthase in the mitochondria, self-renewal function of cells, as well as reducing inflammation. The self-renewal function of cells is done by a mechanism called autophagy. It’s very important to our body’s recovery and fasting can increase it.

4. Improving Chronic Disease

Intermittent fasting not only assists weight loss, but can also increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin to reduce blood lipids, blood sugar, and blood pressure thus improving chronic inflammatory diseases.

In one study included in the review, researchers divided 100 obese women into two groups—one group reduced 25 percent consumption of food, and the other group underwent the 5:2 diet. After six months, both groups lost similar weight, but the 5:2 diet group had a much higher sensitivity to insulin and obvious loss of belly fat.

5. Increased Exercise Endurance, Performance

Researchers compared the physical activity level of mice undergoing alternate-day fasting (ADF) and having regular meals. The ADF mice had far better running endurance than the regularly fed mice and showed better balance and coordination ability. Another study found young men who fasted for 16 hours lost fat without muscle loss.

6. Cancer Prevention

Most animal research found that restriction of calorie intake and ADF can reduce the risk of tumors, inhibit tumor growth, and increase sensitivity of tumors to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The curative effect is shown to be noticeably magnified.

7. Decreasing Progression of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease

Through animal research, it was found that both occurrence and progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can be postponed through ADF. Intermittent fasting brings many benefits to our brain, including promoting neuronal remodeling to counteract nutritional stress, strengthening the function of brain mitochondrion, stimulating cell renewal, spurring the generation of nerve protection factors, increasing antioxidant function, and recovering inheritance genes.

8. Reducing Immune Disease

Recent research found that if patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) persist in intermittent fasting, the disease symptoms improved within two months. This might have to do with the function of reducing inflammation.

Therefore, intermittent fasting should also benefit rheumatoid arthritis and other immune diseases. MS is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body.

9. Reduction of Damage Caused by Concussion

This may come as a surprise, but intermittent fasting was found to repair damage such as memory loss, lack of concentration, increased temper tantrums, and hypersomnia due to concussion. This is an unexpected boon for people with brain injuries.

One significant benefit of intermittent fasting is that it can directly activate the anti-aging tunnel in our body and thus reduce the aging process.

3 Notes to Consider in Intermittent Fasting

Which kind of intermittent fasting is suitable for you? In learning about the multiple benefits of intermittent fasting, many people are willing to give it a try. Here are some things to consider.

Firstly, even though there are many benefits of fasting, it can be challenging. Many people are accustomed to eating three meals a day and also having snacks. The influence of advertisements plying consumers with an endless array of tempting foods makes abstaining difficult. To fast, absolute determination is required.

Second of all, many people feel misadjusted while beginning to fast. During the initial days of intermittent fasting, one may feel hungry, have a short temper, and experience a lack of concentration, but these symptoms will gradually disappear within a month. One needs to be mentally prepared for a fast.

Fasting through breakfast may be an easier choice than fasting through dinner—however, as dinner tends to be a larger meal, letting it be the meal skipped may provide better results. As well, skipping dinner doesn’t tend to affect sleeping quality as much as skipping breakfast may. It isn’t recommended to fast every day in the beginning. You can gradually increase fasting time day by day starting from 12 hours and gradually increasing to 18 and then 20 hours.

And finally, if you have any current medical conditions such as diabetes, don’t attempt to fast without first consulting your physician. Only regulate your eating habits under the monitoring of a doctor. You may like to try a few weeks on the Mediterranean Diet before easing into fasting.

According to the Taiwanese Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, the Mediterranean Diet is a comprehensive eating habit. It promotes the intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oil.

As a base approach to better eating, choose natural food rather than processed food to lower inflammation.

How to Practice Intermittent Fasting

If you’ve read the article up to this point, you may feel prepared for fasting. There is a recommended proper approach to safe and effective fasting.

For ADF, one takes regular, wholesome meals one day, then consumes less than 500 calories the next.

For 5:2 fasting, one takes regular meals on weekdays and then consumes less than 500 calories on each weekend day. On both weekend days, one waits 16 hours a day between meals. Alternately, you can choose two separated days for reduced eating, like Monday and Thursday.

Westerners sometimes promote skipping breakfast and finishing their meals between noon and 8 p.m. but having meals between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. is more compatible with our biological clock. When you have a late dinner, the body will emit melatonin, affecting sleep quality. Also, the digestive system doesn’t function well while sleeping so it is better to eat earlier than later.

Take caution to not overeat during non-fasting times. Continue to enjoy regular-sized meals and a balanced diet with two portions of fruits and vegetables, one portion of animal or plant-based protein, one portion of carbohydrates, and some healthy fats. In addition, slow down your time eating time to allow a greater sense of satiation and healthy digestion.

In accordance with your own situation, you can begin intermittent fasting with one day a weekend, gradually increasing to insure your goals are accomplished.

Dr. Jingduan Yang

Dr. Jingduan Yang

Dr. Jingduan Yang is a faculty member at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine, former assistant professor of psychiatry, and director of the Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture Program at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. He completed a research fellowship in clinical psychopharmacology at Oxford University, residency training in psychiatry at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and a Bravewell Fellowship in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona. You can find out more about Dr. Yang at his website www.YangInstitute.com.

Dr. Jingduan Yang

Dr. Jingduan Yang

Dr. Jingduan Yang is a faculty member at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine, former assistant professor of psychiatry, and director of the Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture Program at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. He completed a research fellowship in clinical psychopharmacology at Oxford University, residency training in psychiatry at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and a Bravewell Fellowship in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona. You can find out more about Dr. Yang at his website www.YangInstitute.com.

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