An increasing pool of studies show that the benefits of intermittent fasting, which is a popular eating style in the health community, actually extend well beyond weight loss (that one has already achieved the status of an indisputable fact).
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting, most often done by fasting for a certain number of hours (usually 16) and consuming all the planned calories during a certain subsequent number of hours, or by picking one or two days every week where you fast for 24 hours.
When used wisely, this method can provide you with an accelerated rate of fat loss and some amazing health benefits, described in greater detail in the article below.
1. Fasting promotes sustainable weight loss
This is the number one reason why people incorporate a controlled pattern of fasting in their diet. Research shows that short-term fasting can increase the metabolic rate by 4-14%, allowing you to burn more calories on a daily basis.
In addition, it stimulates a greater breakdown of body fat by promoting lower levels of insulin and higher levels of growth hormone and noradrenaline, resulting with more fat being used to fuel the activities of the organism.
It should take several weeks for your body to shift to this increased fat burning mode, but once it does, the intensity of your cravings for junk food and sugar is most likely to reduce, helping you maintain a healthier diet. And since it causes far less muscle loss than continuous calorie restriction, it’s the safest method for trimming body fat in athletes.
2. Fasting improves insulin sensitivity
Insulin resistance is a key contributing factor to diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which makes it an important global health problem. That being said, intermittent fasting is an incredible tool for improving insulin and leptin sensitivity, i.e. making your cells take up glucose from the blood more effectively.
Many scientific reports agree intermittent fasting can help reduce blood glucose levels and glucose variability while significantly increasing insulin sensitivity in people diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Some experts even believe that fasting it’s one of the most powerful natural insulin sensitizer known to man, and there’s a good reason for that.
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body produces insulin but is unable to use it on an effective way, leading to fat accumulation in tissues that are not designed to store fat and a unwanted glucose build-up in the blood.
When you fast, your body has no other choice but to burn fat from the fat deposits in order to get the fuel needed for the normal functioning of your cells. This results with a significant reduction of the size of the lipid droplets in muscle and liver cells, making those cells more responsive to insulin.
3. Fasting helps you establish a healthier eating pattern
Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is produced by the stomach, small intestine, pancreas and brain. The most important roles of ghrelin in the organism are to stimulate appetite, increase food intake and promote fat storage. Basically, this hormone tells our body when it’s time to eat.
However, people with disturbed eating patterns suffer from an unbalanced production of this vital hormone. When you eat too frequently or too much for a longer period of time, you lose the ability to differentiate between real hunger and habitual eating.
In this situation, fasting can be applied to restore the function of ghrelin and help you restrict your calorie intake, given that you schedule your meals and their calorie count.
And when you focus on eating only when you’re actually hungry, you’re less likely to overeat and emotional eating is easier to avoid. While it’s true that restricting your calorie intake makes you hungrier, when fasting for 48 hours or more, your body adapts to the changes and naturally decreases ghrelin levels, resulting with a diminished hunger.
In addition, allowing ghrelin to be present in the body through fasting is an effective way to raise your levels of growth hormone. To make best use of this peak, train on an empty stomach right before the end of your fasting period.
4. Fasting improves brain function
Studies have shown that fasting can optimize your brain’s health in more than one way.
First of all, it promotes an important cellular process called autophagy or cellular cleansing, which helps the cells get rid of all their waste, consisting mainly of damaged molecules. This is the way your body detoxifies, repairs and regenerates itself, allowing for optimal functioning of all tissues.
Secondly, fasting can increase the level of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), one of the most important neurotrophins when it comes to stimulating and managing neurogenesis, by up to 40%. BDNF is crucial for preventing death of existing brain cells, inducing the growth of new neurons and synapses and enhancing cognitive function.
It has also been proven that increased BDNF signaling improves cardiovascular health and blood glucose regulation. In turn, low levels of BDNF are linked to poor neural development, Alzheimer’s, neurotransmitter dysfunction, psychiatric disorders such as clinical depression and schizophrenia and accelerated aging.
However, keep in mind that in order to get elevated BDNF levels through fasting will require consistent effort over a longer period of time.
5. Fasting reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
By reducing your risk of developing diabetes or helping you reverse a pre-diabetic condition, fasting promotes heart health as well. But regular fasting also improves the way your body metabolizes cholesterol, resulting with decreased levels of bad cholesterol and increasing the levels of good cholesterol in the body.
Also, multiple studies show that the levels of triglycerides and glucose in the blood get significantly reduced during a fast. And according to the findings of a report recently presented at the American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans, report that people who fast regularly have a 58% lower risk of coronary disease compared with those who never fast.