Beyond Weight Loss: Intermittent Fasting for Health

Updated on May 26, 2020

Intermittent fasting, otherwise known as IF, is a healthy and simple way to lose weight. With IF, there’s no calorie counting needed, and no reason to restrict calories every day at every meal. Researches prove that intermittent fasting can be more efficient for weight loss than daily caloric restriction: IF targets body fat and preserves muscle, which keeps your metabolism high. 

When choosing intermittent fasting, you can eat as you normally would while you’re within the eating window, and alternate eating during your fasting hours. Depending on your goals and your lifestyle, you choose how long you’ll fast for. You might decide to skip one meal daily, fast every other day, or fast for a complete 24-hours once or twice a week. 

If you’re considering a change in your eating plan, losing weight may be among your goals. But why stop with weight loss? The health benefits of intermittent fasting extend to your heart, your brain, and your endocrine system, which regulates your metabolism and hormonal health. You can benefit from intermittent fasting, no matter where you currently are on the spectrum of body weight and wellness. 

Heart Health and IF

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase risk for heart disease when present together. If you have metabolic syndrome you may have excess body fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol. This puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, heart disease or diabetes. 

Research indicates intermittent fasting is an effective means of improving metabolic syndrome risk factors. One reason why is ‘metabolic switching.’ Metabolic switching is triggered by fasting and occurs when glycogen stores have been depleted and the body turns to fat and ketones for energy instead. 

Using fat for energy not only helps you lose weight, but lowers total cholesterol and LDL, your ‘bad’ cholesterol. IF further reduces the risk of hardened arteries by reducing the presence of inflammatory biomarkers. 

Both animal and human studies find that IF lowers your blood pressure, lowers blood sugar, and increases insulin resistance. Additionally, losing weight also contributes to a healthier heart. 

IF and Brain Health

Intermittent fasting not only makes your body healthier, but your brain too. More stable blood sugar, reduced inflammation, and the elimination of damaged cells all contribute to brain health, and each is enhanced by IF. 

Ketosis, which is triggered by IF, is the key mechanism by which the brain benefits from intermittent fasting. Ketosis enhances your brain’s neuroplasticity, the ability to form new neural connections. It also plays an important role in reducing inflammation and protecting your central nervous system from disease. IF and ketosis increase the presence of an important brain protein, BDNF. 

BDNF protects your neurons from damage, whether from aging, diseases such as dementia, or acute damage, such as a stroke. BDNF keeps you smarter as you age and helps you stay calm and happier too. This brain protein plays a role in regulating your parasympathetic nervous system and heart rate. 

Intermittent fasting also benefits your brain by increasing autophagy. Autophagy is your body’s way of clearing out old or damaged cells. When this process isn’t properly functioning, you’re at risk for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and other brain-related diseases.   

IF, Endocrine Health, and Hormones

Your endocrine system is the pathway through which your body sends hormonal signals to your organs. Intermittent fasting has a positive influence on hormone regulation. This is partially because IF helps you lose weight and improves your quality of sleep.   

IF is also associated with an increase in growth hormone. This prevents the loss of muscle as you lose weight. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism, which helps you burn more body fat. 

Contrary to what you might think, skipping meals with intermittent fasting may actually reduce your hunger over time. Studies find that the hunger hormone ghrelin decreases when you limit your food intake to just 6 hours per day. 

Among the most powerful hormonal benefits of intermittent fasting is its effect on insulin. Insulin is made in your pancreas, which is part of your endocrine system. IF increases insulin sensitivity which helps your body remove sugar from your blood more efficiently. This prevents you from energetically crashing after meals and reduces your risk for diabetes and heart disease. 

Intermittent fasting profoundly changes how your body functions, which helps more than just your waistline. No matter the fasting plan you follow, your hormones, heart, and brain can benefit. IF just might be the key to total mind and body health.

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