Despite its recent surge in popularity, fasting is an age-old practice and plays a central role in many cultures and religions. Defined as abstinence from all or certain foods and/or drinks for a certain period of time, there are many different ways to fast.
In general, most types of fasts last 24 to 72 hours. Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, involves cycles of periods with food and fasting, ranging from a few hours to a few days at a time.
Fasting has been shown to have many health benefits, from boosting weight loss to improving brain function.
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Health Benefits Of Fasting
Here are 8 health benefits of fasting – backed by science.
8. Promotes Blood Sugar Control by reducing insulin resistance
Several studies have found that fasting can improve blood sugar control, which can be especially useful for those at risk for diabetes.
In fact, a study of 10 people with type 2 diabetes showed that short-term intermittent fasting significantly lowered blood sugar levels.
Meanwhile, another review found that both intermittent fasting and alternating day fasting were as effective as limiting caloric intake in reducing insulin resistance.
Decreasing insulin resistance can increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin, allowing it to transport glucose from your bloodstream to cells more efficiently.
Along with the potential blood sugar lowering effects of fasting, this can help to keep your blood glucose level stable, preventing spikes and drops in glucose levels.
Keep in mind, however, that some studies have found that fasting can affect blood glucose levels differently for men and women.
For example, a small three-week study showed that alternating day fasting impaired blood sugar control in women, but had no effect on men.
7. Promotes better health by fighting inflammation
Although acute inflammation is a normal immune process used to help fight infections, chronic inflammation can have serious consequences for your health.
Research shows that inflammation may be involved in the development of dementia, chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
Some studies have found that fasting can help decrease inflammation levels and help promote better health.
A study of 50 healthy adults showed that intermittent fasting for one month significantly decreased levels of inflammatory markers.
Another small study found the same effect when people fast 12 hours a day for a month.
In addition, an animal study found that following a low-calorie diet, to mimic the effects of fasting, reduced levels of inflammation and was beneficial in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, a chronic inflammatory condition.
6. Can improve heart health by improving blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels
Heart disease is considered to be the leading cause of death worldwide, causing about 31.5% of deaths worldwide.
Some research has found that incorporating fasting into your routine can be especially beneficial when it comes to heart health.
A small study found that eight weeks of fasting on alternate days reduced the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and blood triglycerides by 25% and 32% respectively.
Another study of 110 obese adults showed that three-week fasting under medical supervision significantly lowered blood pressure, as well as blood triglyceride levels, total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol.
In addition, a study of 4,629 people associated fasting with a lower risk of coronary artery disease, as well as a significantly lower risk of diabetes, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
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5. Can increase brain function and prevent neurodegenerative disorders
Although research is mainly limited to animal research, several studies have found that fasting can have a powerful effect on brain health.
A study in mice showed that the practice of intermittent fasting for 11 months improved both brain function and brain structure.
Other animal studies have reported that fasting could protect brain health and increase the generation of neurons to help improve cognitive function.
Since fasting can also help relieve inflammation, it can also help prevent neurodegenerative disorders.
In particular, animal studies suggest that fasting can protect and improve outcomes for conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
However, further studies are needed to assess the effects of fasting on brain function in humans.
4. Assists Weight Loss by limiting calorie intake and boosting metabolism
Many use fasting as a quick and easy way to lose a few pounds.
Theoretically, abstaining from all or certain foods and beverages should decrease your overall caloric intake, which can drive weight loss over time.
Some research has also found that short-term fasting can boost metabolism by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which could increase weight loss.
In fact, a review showed that fasting for an entire day can reduce body weight by up to 9% and significantly decrease body fat over 12-24 weeks.
Another review found that intermittent fasting over 3-12 weeks was as effective in inducing weight loss as continuous caloric restriction and decreased body weight and fat mass by up to 8% and 16% respectively.
In addition, fasting was more effective than caloric restriction in increasing fat loss while preserving muscle tissue.
3. Increases the secretion of growth hormone, which is vital for growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength
Human growth hormone (HGH) is a type of protein hormone that is critical to many aspects of your health.
In fact, research shows that this key hormone is involved in growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength.
Several studies have found that fasting could naturally increase HGH levels.
A study of 11 healthy adults showed that fasting for 24 hours significantly increased HGH levels.
Another small study in nine men found that fasting for just two days led to a 5-fold increase in the rate of HGH production.
In addition, fasting can help maintain constant glucose and insulin levels throughout the day, which can further optimize HGH levels, as some research has found that sustaining increased insulin levels can reduce HGH levels.
2. It can delay aging and prolong longevity
Several animal studies have found promising results on the potential effects of fasting on increasing longevity.
In one study, rats that fast every two days experienced a delayed aging rate and lived 83% longer than rats that did not fast.
Other studies in animals had findings similar, reporting that fasting could be effective in increasing longevity and survival rates.
However, current research is still limited to animal studies. Further studies are needed to understand how fasting can affect longevity and aging in humans.
1. Can help prevent cancer and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy
Animal and petri dish studies indicate that fasting can benefit cancer treatment and prevention.
In fact, a study in rats found that fasting every other day helped to block the formation of tumors.
Likewise, a petri dish study showed that exposing cancer cells to several fasting cycles was as effective as chemotherapy in slowing tumor growth and increasing the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs in forming cancer cells.
Unfortunately, most research is limited to the effects of fasting on the formation of cancer in animals and cells.
Despite these promising findings, additional studies are needed to analyze how fasting can influence the development and treatment of cancer in humans.
How to start fasting
There are many different types of fasts, which makes it easy to find a method that fits your lifestyle.
Here are some of the most common types of fasting:
- Water fasting: It involves drinking only water for a specific amount of time.
- Juice fasting: This implies only drinking fruit juice and other vegetables for a certain period.
- Intermittent fasting: Intake is partially or completely restricted for a few hours up to a few days at a time and a normal diet on other days.
- Partial fasting: Certain foods or drinks, such as processed foods, animal products or caffeine are eliminated from the diet for a defined period.
- Calorie restriction: Calories are restricted for a few days every week. Within these categories, there are also more specific types of fasts.
For example, intermittent fasting can be divided into subcategories, such as alternate day fasting, which involves eating every other day, or eating too widely, which means limiting your intake to just a few hours a day.
To start, try experimenting with different types of fasting to find what works best for you. And drink lots, lots of water whenever you’re hungry.
Safety and Side Effects
Despite the long list of possible health benefits, fasting may not be suitable for everyone.
If you suffer from diabetes or low glucose levels, fasting can lead to spikes and drops in glucose levels, which can be dangerous.
It is best to speak to your doctor if you have an underlying health condition or are planning to fast for more than 24 hours.
In addition, fasting is generally not recommended without medical supervision for the elderly, adolescents or people with low weight.
If you decide to try fasting, make sure you stay well hydrated and fill your diet with nutrient-dense foods during your eating periods to maximize the potential health benefits.
Also, if you fast for longer periods, try to minimize intense physical activity and get plenty of rest.
Why is fasting so beneficial?
No one knows exactly, but both history and science do, analyzing ancient skeletons, that humans have always gone through periods of food deprivation. Living in the savanna can be very difficult.
These observed benefits can be evolutionary adaptations that increase the chances of human survival in the natural environment in which we evolved.
On the other hand, the wide offer of food we have today and a regular and excessive diet “turns off” these protection mechanisms, increasing the risk or worsening the outcome for all conditions mentioned here.
A curious hypothesis implies that the fact that we have food in abundance makes the organism complacent when the chloric restriction “wakes up” the body to increase mental and physical focus, precisely to find food.
Fasting is a practice that has been linked to a wide range of potential health benefits, including weight loss, as well as better glucose control, heart health, brain function and cancer prevention.
From water fasting to intermittent fasting and calorie restriction, there are many different types of fasting that fit almost every lifestyle.
When associated with a nutritious diet and a healthy lifestyle, incorporating fasting into your routine can benefit your health.