Intermittent fasting is gaining pace, making its mark in a saturated field where traditional dieting, calorie-restriction, ketone diets, sugar and wheat avoidance, and exercising are common terms.
But does it hold to its promise, or is it a mirage on the healthy-living road?
Despite the absence of specific information on the number of people adopting intermittent fasting, widespread media and internet coverage of it suggest its growing popularity. It is also the most researched form of fasting, with studies done to investigate its weight-loss and other health benefits.
A 2017 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that alternate-day fasting does not give better weight loss or weight maintenance results than that of a continuous calorie restriction diet. This agrees with other studies published in the International Journal of Obesity that the 5:2 diet pattern is as effective as daily calorie restriction diets.
Why is it promoted as a better alternative then? The studies showed that intermittent fasting will do a few things for you.
· Reduces waist circumference,
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· Reduces high blood pressure
· Lipid levels and inflammation.
In animal studies, it has also been shown to increase their average life span, but this is yet to be studied in human clinical trials.
“So far, research points towards some benefits of fasting in promoting short-term weight loss and wellbeing,” agrees dietician and nutritionist June Muchuku.
Intermittent fasting is said to be a return to caveman lifestyle - where our hunter-gatherer ancestors would go for protracted periods without eating because of the varied availability of food then.
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), intermittent fasting improves glucose regulation, increases stress resistance, and suppresses inflammation. The research focused on the effects of intermittent fasting on health, aging, and disease.
Health conditions improved by intermittent fasting
The researchers in the NEJM study explained that intermittent fasting has found favourable clinical applications.
1. Diabetes mellitus
It lowers resistance to insulin, which is one hallmark of type 2 diabetes, and improves any damage to the eye retina caused by diabetes (retinopathy).
It also prevents obesity caused by a high-fat diet. The weight loss improves other conditions associated with obesity such as arthritis and asthma.
3. Cardiovascular disease.
Intermittent fasting improves the risk factors associated with heart and blood vessel disease in humans. These include lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides levels and insulin resistance. It also lowers the risk factors associated with the development of atherosclerosis. This applies to both normal and overweight individuals.
The researchers noted, through animal studies, that alternate-day fasting reduces the occurrence of tumours. It also reduces the cancer cells energy, inhibiting their growth and thus improving clinical treatments outcomes. On-going human studies suggest similar results.
5. Degenerative conditions
The onset and progression of degenerative disorder with ageing such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease is delayed by alternate-day fasting. It also improves exercise endurance, memory and cognition by reversing the effects of obesity, diabetes on memory and learning.
Who shouldn’t consider fasting?
While fasting promises good results, it is a one-size fit all solution. “It is important to note that fasting can be dangerous for high-risk groups like the elderly, pregnant and lactating women, children, underweight individuals, and those with a chronic illness,” advises June. Fasting may also not be an appropriate lifestyle option for those who engage in heavy work.
Risks of long-term IF
If you opt to adopt long-term intermittent fasting, remember that you may be putting yourself at risk of anaemia, fatigue, weakened immune system and muscle loss. You will need to do it right and may need to consult a dietician, doctor or fitness expert.
“Choose a healthy diet plan that you can stick to in the long term as part of your lifestyle. If you have specific goals like weight loss, then go for a diet that restricts the overall calorie intake but still contains a balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. You must do this alongside increased physical activity which provides additional multiple health benefits,” recommends June.