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Intermittent fasting is a type of eating pattern in which you alternate between eating and fasting intervals.

Intermittent fasting can be done in a variety of ways, including the 16/8 and 5:2 approaches.

Numerous studies have shown that it can have significant health benefits for your body and brain.

What exactly is Intermittent Fasting?

You only eat at certain times of the day when you practice intermittent fasting. Fasting for a set number of hours per day or eating only one meal a couple of days per week can help your body burn fat. Furthermore, scientific research suggests that there may be certain health benefits.

Here are 10 evidence-based health benefits of intermittent fasting.

1. Changes the function of hormones, cells, and genes

When you don’t eat for a while, several things happen in your body.

For example, your body changes hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible and initiates important cellular repair processes.

Here are some of the changes that occur in your body during fasting:

  • Insulin levels. Blood levels of insulin drop significantly, which facilitates fat burning 
  • Human growth hormone (HGH) levels. The blood levels of human growth hormone (HGH) may increase dramatically. Higher levels of this hormone facilitate fat burning and muscle gain, and have numerous other benefits 
  • Cellular repair. The body induces important cellular repair processes, such as removing waste material from cells.
  • Gene expression. There are beneficial changes in several genes and molecules related to longevity and protection against disease.

Many of the benefits of intermittent fasting are related to these changes in hormones, the function of cells, and gene expression.

2. Can help you lose weight and visceral fat

Many people who practice intermittent fasting do so to reduce weight.

In general, intermittent fasting causes you to eat fewer meals.

Unless you compensate by eating significantly more at the other meals, you will consume less calories.

Intermittent fasting also improves hormone function, which aids in weight loss.

Lower insulin levels, higher HGH levels, and enhanced norepinephrine (noradrenaline) levels all aid in the breakdown of body fat and its utilization for energy.

As a result, fasting for a brief period of time raises your metabolic rate, allowing you to burn even more calories. To put it another way, intermittent fasting works on both sides of the calorie equation. It enhances your metabolic rate (burns more calories) while decreasing the amount of food you eat (reduces calories in).

According to a 2014 review of the scientific literature, intermittent fasting can result in a 3–8 percent weight loss over 3–24 weeks. This is a massive sum.

Participants in the study also dropped 4–7 percent of their waist circumference over 6–24 weeks, indicating that they eliminated a significant amount of visceral fat. Visceral fat is the disease-causing fat in the abdominal cavity.

In addition, a 2011 study found that intermittent fasting induced less muscle loss than continuous calorie restriction.

A 2020 randomized trial, on the other hand, looked at those who used the 16/8 technique. This diet requires you to fast for 16 hours per day and eat within an 8-hour timeframe.

Fasting did not lose much more weight than those who ate three meals a day. The researchers discovered that persons who fasted lost a considerable percentage of lean mass after testing a subset of the subjects in person. Lean muscle was included in this.

More research is needed to determine the effect of fasting on muscle loss. Overall, intermittent fasting has the potential to be an extremely effective weight loss method.

3. Can reduce insulin resistance, lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes

In recent decades, type 2 diabetes has become a highly prevalent diagnosis. Its main symptom is high blood sugar levels as a result of insulin resistance.

Anything that lowers insulin resistance should help lower blood sugar levels and prevent type 2 diabetes.

Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, has been demonstrated to have significant benefits for insulin resistance and to result in a significant drop in blood sugar levels.

In human investigations on intermittent fasting, fasting blood sugar was lowered by 3–6% in persons with prediabetes over the course of 8–12 weeks. Fasting insulin levels have been lowered by 20–31%.

In one research of diabetic mice, intermittent fasting enhanced survival rates and protected against diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is a potentially blinding condition.

This suggests that intermittent fasting may be extremely beneficial for persons at risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes.

However, there may be some gender disparities. One 2005 study in women found that a 22-day intermittent fasting program significantly worsened blood sugar management.

4. Can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body

One of the first steps toward aging and many chronic diseases is oxidative stress.

It involves the use of unstable chemicals known as free radicals. Free radicals cause harm to other essential components such as protein and DNA.

Several studies have found that intermittent fasting improves the body's tolerance to oxidative stress.

Furthermore, research shows that intermittent fasting can help reduce inflammation, which is another major cause of many common ailments.

5. May be beneficial for heart health

Heart disease is currently the world’s biggest killer.

It’s known that various health markers (so-called “risk factors”) are associated with either an increased or decreased risk of heart disease.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve numerous different risk factors, including:

  • blood sugar levels
  • blood pressure
  • blood triglycerides
  • total and LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • inflammatory markers

However, much of this is based on animal studies.

The effects of fasting on heart health need to be studied more in-depth in humans before recommendations can be made.

6. Induces various cellular repair processes

When we fast, our cells undergo a cellular "waste elimination" process known as autophagy.

Cells do this by breaking down and metabolizing damaged and malfunctioning proteins that accumulate inside cells over time. Increased autophagy may offer protection against a variety of diseases, including cancer and neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.

7. May help prevent cancer

Cancer is defined by uncontrolled cell proliferation.

Fasting has been proven to have many metabolic benefits that may lead to a lower risk of cancer.

Animal studies have shown that intermittent fasting or diets that resemble fasting may help prevent cancer. Human research has yielded similar results, albeit additional research is required. Fasting has also been shown to lessen certain negative effects of chemotherapy in people.

8. Has benefits for your brain

What’s good for the body is often good for the brain as well.

Intermittent fasting improves various metabolic features known to be important for brain health.

Intermittent fasting helps reduce:

  • oxidative stress
  • inflammation
  • blood sugar levels
  • insulin resistance

Several studies in mice and rats have shown that intermittent fasting may increase the growth of new nerve cells, which should have benefits for brain function.

Fasting also increases levels of a brain hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). A BDNF deficiency has been implicated in depression and various other brain problems.

Animal studies have also shown that intermittent fasting protects against brain damage due to strokes.

9. May help prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer's disease is the most common neurological illness in the world.

Because there is presently no cure for Alzheimer's, preventing it from developing in the first place is crucial. Intermittent fasting has been shown in rats and mice to postpone the onset or lower the severity of Alzheimer's disease.

A lifestyle strategy that included regular short-term fasts was able to considerably alleviate Alzheimer's symptoms in 9 out of 10 persons, according to a series of case reports.

Fasting may also protect against other neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's and Huntington's disease, according to animal research.

However, further human study is required.

10. May extend your lifespan, helping you live longer

One of the most intriguing applications of intermittent fasting may be its ability to prolong life.

Intermittent fasting extends lifespan in rodents in the same manner that chronic calorie restriction does.

Fruit flies have also been demonstrated to live longer lives when they fast intermittently.

The results of some of these investigations were extremely spectacular. In a previous study, rats who fasted every other day lived 83 percent longer than rats who did not fast.

In a 2017 study, mice who were fasted every other day had a 13 percent increase in lifespan.

Daily fasting has also been demonstrated to benefit male mice's overall health. It aided in the postponement of the beginning of illnesses such as fatty liver disease and hepatocellular cancer, both of which are typical in aged mice.

Although this has yet to be proven in humans, intermittent fasting has grown in popularity among the anti-aging camp.

Given the proven benefits of intermittent fasting for metabolism and a variety of health markers, it stands to reason that it could help you live a longer and better life.

Does Intermittent Fasting Work

According to certain studies, intermittent fasting can help your body preserve muscle mass more effectively than calorie restriction, which may add to its attractiveness. According to one study, intermittent fasting can reduce body weight by up to 8% and body fat by up to 16% over 3–12 weeks.

The Bottomline

Intermittent fasting is a popular weight-loss approach, but it has many other advantages. According to animal and human research, it can also help you live a longer and better life.

Intermittent fasting can be done in a variety of ways. Some approaches entail fasting at specific times of the day. Other ways ask you to fast exclusively on specific days of the week. Approaches — and outcomes — differ. If you want to start intermittent fasting, talk to your doctor or a nutrition professional right away. They can assist you in determining whether it is safe for you.