Through intermittent fasting and controlling the intake of calories, the human body can increase the amount and function of stem cells, which are vital to delay our aging process and reduce inflammation. What is intermittent fasting? What are the benefits of intermittent fasting? How do we know if we are suitable for doing intermittent fasting?

“Fasting” means not eating or drinking anything that contains calories for a period of time. One can drink water, black coffee, or other calorie-free drinks.

Types of Fasting Methods

Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey told the press that he eats only one meal a day between 6 pm and 9 pm, which consists of proteins and vegetables. Fasting helped him feel more focused and to be able to devote more attention to everyday life.

Skipping breakfast and lunch, Jack gained more time to focus on important things. This intermittent fasting method is known as “samurai fasting,” or OMAD (one meal a day). In ancient times, samurai did not eat three meals a day but had one huge dinner instead. This method allows people to drink water, black coffee, and low-calorie things within a 20-hour period, and consume high-calorie food within the remaining four-hour window of the day.

However, the evening may not be the healthiest time to have a huge meal.

Chris Pratt, star of Guardians of the Galaxy, told his fans that intermittent fasting is a “must try.” Pratt claims the fasting helped him play the superhero roles well in his movie. He said he usually drinks coffee and exercises before noon and does not eat anything after 8 pm His intermittent fasting method is called 16/8 intermittent fasting or “time restricted eating.” This method involves limiting the intake of foods and beverages to a set window of eight hours per day. Some suggest that 18 hours, rather than 16 hours, produces a better result.

Jimmy Kimmel, host of an American late-night talk show, lost excess body weight by two days of fasting each week. Although he did consume some food and drink during the two days (Mondays and Thursdays) he kept his intake to within 500 calories.

Jimmy said he got the idea from a BBC documentary about a 138-year-old Indian man whose secret to longevity was restricting calorie intake through fasting. He introduced the fasting method as the 5:2 diet: having five-day regular meals and eating fewer than 500 calories for two days.

There are many celebrities, bodybuilders, and online influencers sharing and promoting their experience of intermittent fasting.

Although they may not be experts in medical or health fields, they do have great influence on the public by sharing their personal experiences.

Does celebrity endorsement make intermittent fasting just a healthy trend? Or is it scientifically supported? How are real experts on the topic weighing in?

Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine released a collaborative review titled “Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease.” The article comprehensively concluded the research results of intermittent fasting.

Three kinds of intermittent fasting were studied, including Alternate-Day Fasting (ADF), 5:2 diet, and OMAD.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?

1. Anti-aging

Eating less can help our body produce fewer harmful metabolites, including free radicals. More importantly, it can improve the reactivity of cells and organs, promote the regulation of blood sugar and pressure resistance, and simultaneously suppress inflammatory responses.

A free radical is a type of unstable molecule that is made during normal cell metabolism (chemical changes that take place in a cell). Free radicals can build up in cells and cause damage to other molecules, such as DNA, lipids, and proteins. This damage may increase the risk of cancer and other diseases.

The lifestyle of having three meals a day, occasional snacks in between, and mostly sitting, is harmful to our body. More exercise and taking in sufficient or limited calories is beneficial to health. Intermittent fasting protects and heals our bodies.

2. Weight loss.

Normally the body offers energy through glucose transformed from the consumption of carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. In overeating, the liver will transform excess glucose into fat and store it up. Overeating, inadequate exercise, and too much sitting, causes fat to be stored in our bodies. Fasting for more than 16 hours causes the body to consume stored glycogen first, then burn fat. The dissolution of fat will produce ketone bodies which offer energy to our brain and play the important role of transmitting signals between organs and participating in the function of cells and organs.

3. Igniting autophagy

During fasting, a series of chemical reactions occur in the body, including promoting antioxidant mechanisms, recovering the material of inheritance DNA, increasing protein quality, increasing ATP synthase in the mitochondria, self-renewal function of cells, as well as reducing inflammation. The self-renewal function of cells is done by a mechanism called autophagy. It is very important to our body’s recovery.

4. Improving chronic disease

Intermittent fasting not only assists weight loss, but can also increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin to reduce blood lipids, blood sugar, and blood pressure thus improving chronic inflammatory diseases.

Researchers divided 100 obese women into two groups—one group reduced 25 percent consumption of food, and the other group underwent the 5:2 diet. After six months, both groups lost similar weight, but the 5:2 diet group had a much higher sensitivity to insulin and obvious loss of belly fat.

5. Increased exercise endurance and performance

Researchers compared the physical activity level of mice undergoing ADF and having regular meals. The ADF mice had far better running endurance than the regularly fed mice and showed better balance and coordination ability. In addition, young males, who fasted for 16 hours, lost fat without muscle loss.

6. Cancer prevention

Most animal research found that restriction of calorie intake and ADF can reduce the risk of tumors, inhibit tumor growth, and increase the sensitivity of tumors to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The curative effect is shown to be noticeably magnified.

7. Decreasing the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease

Through animal research, it was found that both occurrence and progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can be postponed through ADF. Intermittent fasting brings many benefits to our brain, including promoting neuronal remodeling to counteract nutritional stress, strengthening the function of brain mitochondria, stimulating cell renewal and the generation of nerve protection factors, antioxidant function, and recovering inheritance genes.

8. Reducing immune diseases

Recent research found that if patients of multiple sclerosis (MS) persist in intermittent fasting, the disease symptoms improve within two months. This might have to do with the function of reducing inflammation.

Therefore, it can also benefit rheumatoid arthritis and other immune diseases. MS is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body.

9. Reduction of damage caused by concussion

This may come as a surprise—repairing damage such as memory loss, lack of concentration, increased temper tantrums, and hypersomnia due to concussion is an unexpected boon for people with brain injuries.

One significant benefit of intermittent fasting is that it can directly activate the anti-aging tunnel in our body and thus reduce the aging process.

Three Notes to Consider in Intermittent Fasting

Which kind of intermittent fasting is suitable for you? In learning about the multiple benefits of intermittent fasting, many people are willing to give it a try. Here are some things to consider.

  1. Even though there are many benefits of fasting, it can be challenging. Many people are accustomed to eating three meals a day and also having snacks. The influence of advertisements plying consumers with an endless array of tempting foods makes abstaining difficult. To fast, absolute determination is required.
  1. Many people feel misadjusted while starting to fast. During fasting, one feels hungry, may have a short temper, and lack concentration, but these symptoms will gradually disappear within a month. One needs to be mentally prepared for a fast.

Fasting through breakfast maybe an easier choice than fasting through dinner—however, as dinner tends to be a larger meal, letting it be the meal skipped may provide better results. As well, skipping dinner does not tend to affect sleeping quality as much as skipping breakfast may. It is not recommended to fast every day in the beginning. You can gradually increase fasting time day by day starting from 12 hours and gradually increasing to 18 then 20 hours.

  1. If you have any current medical conditions such as diabetes do not attempt to fast without first consulting your physician. Only regulate your eating habits under the supervision of a doctor. You may like to try a few weeks on the Mediterranean Diet before easing into fasting.

According to the Taiwanese Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, the Mediterranean Diet is a comprehensive eating habit. It promotes the intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oil, and choosing natural food rather than processed food to lower inflammation.

How to Practice Intermittent Fasting

If you’ve read the article up to this point, you may feel prepared for fasting. There is a recommended proper approach to safe and effective fasting.

For ADF one takes regular, wholesome meals one day then consumes less than 500 calories the next.

For 5:2 fasting one takes regular meals on weekdays then consumes less than 500 calories on each weekend day. In addition to both, one has 16 hours a day between meals.

Westerners sometimes promote skipping breakfast and finishing their meals between noon and 8 pm but having meals between 7 am and 3 pm is more compatible with our biological clock. When you have a late dinner, the body will emit melatonin, affecting sleep quality— and the digestive system does not function well while sleeping.

Take care not to overeat during the non-fasting times. Continue to enjoy regular sized meals and a balanced diet with two portions of fruits and vegetables, one portion of animal or plant-based protein, one portion of carbohydrates, and some healthy fats. In addition, slow down your eating time to allow a greater sense of satiation and healthy digestion.

In accordance with your own situation, you can start intermittent fasting with one day a weekend gradually increase to ensure accomplishing your goals.

Jingduan Yang

Dr. Jingduan Yang is a faculty member at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine, former assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture Program at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. He completed a research fellowship in clinical psychopharmacology at Oxford University, residency training in psychiatry at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and a Bravewell Fellowship in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona. You can find out more about Dr. Yang at his website www.YangInstitute.com.

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