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8 Benefits & 8 Drawbacks of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) has gained widespread popularity as a health and fitness trend, offering numerous benefits beyond weight loss. However, IF may not be suitable for everyone and there are some drawbacks to consider.

This article will explore the concept of intermittent fasting and its potential impact on our health and well-being.


What is intermittent fasting (IF)?

Intermittent fasting involves alternating between periods of eating and fasting.

The most common approach to IF is the 16/8 method, where individuals fast for 16 hours daily and restrict their eating to an 8-hour window, typically starting at noon and ending at 8 pm.

Some may prefer to extend this eating window to 10 -12 hrs, with a fasting period of at least 12hrs.


plate with food, fork and spoon in shape of a clock. concept of intermittent fasting

What are the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting?


Eight evidence-based health benefits of intermittent fasting include:

  1. Intermittent fasting positively impacts insulin and human growth hormone (HGH) levels, facilitating fat burning and reversing insulin resistance. Studies show significant increases in HGH levels during fasting, promoting metabolic and fat-burning processes. One such study found that after a 3-day fast, HGH levels can increase by more than 300%. A week later, they can go up by a whopping 1,250%.

  2. Intermittent fasting aids in weight loss, particularly in reducing harmful visceral fat. Short-term fasting boosts metabolic rate, leading to increased calorie burning.

  3. Intermittent fasting enhances the body's resistance to oxidative stress, as observed in various research studies.

  4. Intermittent fasting has anti-inflammatory effects, as evidenced by studies conducted by Mount Sinai researchers. Fasting reduces inflammation and improves chronic inflammatory diseases without compromising the immune system's response to acute infections.

  5. Intermittent fasting benefits heart health by lowering triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure, among other cardiovascular benefits.

  6. Animal studies suggest that intermittent fasting or fasting-mimicking diets may help prevent cancer, showing promising results.

  7. Intermittent fasting shows promise in improving brain health and delaying the onset and progression of diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in animal models. Studies demonstrate increased longevity, improved cognitive function, and reduced brain plaque in animals subjected to intermittent fasting.

  8. Intermittent fasting has the potential to extend lifespan. Research involving routine fasters compared to non-fasters revealed a 45% lower mortality rate among those who regularly fasted over an average follow-up period of 4.4 years.

What are the potential drawbacks of intermittent fasting?

Although there are scientifically supported benefits of intermittent fasting, there are also potential drawbacks.

  1. Potential Overeating or Bingeing: While IF can help control calorie intake, some individuals may experience a tendency to overeat or binge during the eating window, potentially negating the benefits of fasting.

  2. Energy Levels and Productivity: Some individuals may experience lower energy levels, decreased focus, or reduced productivity during fasting periods, particularly if they're not accustomed to fasting. This can impact daily activities and performance.

  3. Potential increase in the stress hormone cortisol: For those who are emotionally stressed or in a state of adrenal fatigue or exhaustion, intermittent fasting, particularly for long periods, may further aggravate adrenal and fatigue-related issues.

  4. Nutritional Deficiencies: IF may make it more difficult to meet all nutritional needs, especially if the eating window is limited and food choices are not well-balanced or nutrient-dense. It's important to ensure that meals consumed during the eating window provide essential nutrients.

  5. Disrupted Social Interactions: IF can sometimes make it challenging to align eating schedules with family, friends, or social gatherings. This may lead to feelings of isolation or difficulty participating in shared meals or events.

  6. Adverse Effects on Certain Individuals: Intermittent fasting may not be suitable for everyone, particularly individuals with certain medical conditions, pregnant or breastfeeding women, individuals with a history of disordered eating, or those on specific medications. It's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting IF to determine if it's appropriate for you.

  7. Disrupted Sleep Patterns: For some individuals, fasting close to bedtime may cause difficulty falling asleep or disrupted sleep patterns. It's recommended to assess how fasting affects your sleep quality and adjust the fasting schedule accordingly.

  8. Dehydration: Intermittent fasting may be associated with dehydration as individuals might forget to consume adequate fluids when they abstain from eating.

Summary:

Although there are many scientifically supported benefits of intermittent fasting, ranging from improved insulin levels, weight loss, reduced inflammation, and increased longevity, it may not be for everyone.

It is important to be aware of the possible drawbacks before considering intermittent fasting as a dietary approach.

A certain duration of fasting is necessary to provide the digestive system with a break and promote gut motility. However, for some individuals, a 16-hour fasting period may be too lengthy, and opting for a shorter fasting window could still yield benefits without adding stress to certain bodies or body systems.


image of healthy food and functional medicine practitioner Georgina Compton

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