6 lesser-known health benefits of intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is an eating plan which focuses on when you eat rather than what you eat. With intermittent fasting, you switch between fasting and eating on a regular schedule by eating during a specific time.

Intermittent fasting has fast become a popular way for many seeking to lose weight. Moving from a state of being well-fed to a fasting state helps you burn calories, improve metabolism and promotes weight loss.

When you fast, the body shifts into a fat-burning mode. Fasting forces the body to use stored glycogen followed by fat as energy, making it a practical plan for weight management.

However, even if weight loss isn't your goal, here are 6 lesser-known benefits of intermittent fasting.

  1. Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is a way your body fights infection, but if there is too much inflammation that can lead to various diseases. A study demonstrates intermittent fasting reduced the number of cells that cause inflammation in the body. 

Many Experts believe that people have an excess of inflammation because they consume too much and too often.

  1. Regenerates Cells

When fasting, your body goes through a self- cleaning procedure, clearing away old non- functioning cells. This process creates new cells that perform essential functions, and these new cells use energy more efficiently.

  1. Impacts the immune system

Dr Longo, Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences at the University of California, noted prolonged fasting, for 2 to 4 days, 'flips a regenerative switch', killing old and damaged immune cells. Then stem cells move to create brand new white blood cells, essentially regenerating your entire immune system. 

Fasting may be beneficial for people suffering from a compromised immune system such as cancer patients and immune system issues such as auto-immune diseases.

  1. Detoxes the body

80% of immune cells are in the gut. If you have adopted an unhealthy diet or harmful foods to which you may be allergic, your immune system can go into hyperactive attack mode. Fasting shuts down this hyperactive reaction and gives your immune system a break, allowing the liver and kidneys to get rid of toxins in the body.

  1. Eliminates dormant virus cells in the body

Viruses can get into human cells. Some viruses such as the chickenpox virus can lay dormant. However, when a person is under stress, the immune system is weakened, and shingles can erupt. Following a fast, the body naturally eliminates these virus cells, reducing the viral cell numbers. 

  1. Improves Mitochondrial function

Mitochondria are the powerhouses that convert energy from the food we eat into energy that runs a range of biological processes, providing the energy to power the cell's biochemical reactions. Research has proven that reducing calories and fasting improves mitochondrial function leading to better health and longevity.

How to do intermittent fasting?

Not eating for 2 to 3 days is very difficult for most people.

Intermittent fasting, however, is very manageable. A popular version of is the 16:8 fasting schedule. You fast for 16 hours and limit all your meals within an 8-hour period. An example would be to eat your first meal of the day at 10 am and eat your last meal at 6 pm. Or you may start with fasting for 12 hours and slowly work your way to a longer fasting period.

Eating healthy foods during your eating window ensures a balanced diet with the requisite nutrients. It will not work if you eat junk food and load up on calories.

Who should avoid intermittent fasting?

While intermittent fasting has excellent health benefits, it's certainly not one-size-fits-all.

People with diabetes, heart patients who are taking heart medication, underweight people, pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and children should avoid intermittent fasting. 

As intermittent fasting is a stressor on your body, it could impact on stress and reproduction hormones. Women's bodies are more sensitive to calorie restriction. Women have hormones that help regulate menstrual cycles and fertility and intermittent fasting can interfere with these. 

Fasting in a manner that is extreme or unhealthy can be a symptom of an eating disorder so it must be done in a safe and controlled way.  Before embarking on the intermittent fasting plan, it is advisable to consult your relevant health professional.

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