Fasting: Understanding the Health Benefits and Risks
In a recent study completed by a team from the University of Southern California has found that a fasting diet consisting of fasting for 5 days each month has been found to encourage a healthy metabolic system within the body.
Studying 71 people, including a group that partook in the fasting diet as well as a group that maintained a normal diet for the first 3 months, the team was able to find associations between the diet and a number of health benefits including reduced body weight, lower body fat, improved blood pressure levels and more.
Often associated with religious practices, this new research suggests that the act of fasting carries many practical benefits for our health. Dr. Michael Mosley, the author of ‘The Fast Diet’ books, stated: “Studies of intermittent fasting show that not only do people see improvements in blood pressure and their cholesterol levels, but also in their insulin sensitivity.”
In a study conducted by Dr. Valter Longo at the University of Southern California, it was found that those who participated in a fasting diet, lasting a period of 2-4 days at a time, were able to ‘reboot’ their immune system and protect the body against cell damage caused by aging.
Health Benefits of Fasting
- Slow the Effects of Aging: Improving upon blood composition has been found to improve upon the aging process within the body, leading to a longer lifespan.
- Improve Skin Appearance: High blood sugar has been found to impact the collagen within the skin, weakening its resilience. Fasting will help to improve upon your skin care routine, allowing the skin to age gracefully.
- Promote Cardiovascular Health: Fasting has been found to improve blood composition, blood pressure and cardiovascular function in the body quickly, improving cardiovascular health.
- Decrease Blood Sugar: In the first few days of fasting most people experience a drop of over 30% in their blood sugar, experiencing lowered energy levels, however as you continue to fast these levels will stabilize at a lowered level.
- Boost Your Metabolism: Fasting encourages the body’s sensitivity to the hormone leptin, which in turn will increase the rate of your metabolism by increasing thyroid hormone production.
- Lower Blood Pressure: Following the first week of a fast the lowered salt intake in the body will work to decrease blood pressure.
- Decrease Blood Triglycerides: Fatty blood has been found to increase your risk of developing narrowed arteries, along with other risks. Fasting works to decrease the blood triglycerides in the body.
- Encourage Fat Loss: Taking part in intermittent fasting helps the body to reach the state of ketosis, helping the body to burn fat reserves. This will help to reduce the fat stored in the body.
- Anti-Inflammatory: Through eliminating unhealthy foods from the body and balancing the body’s hormones, fasting is able to lower free radicals within the body that have been found to cause inflammation.
- Promote the Results of Exercise: Fasting has been found to improve on the results of regular exercising, as well as work to encourage a better body composition through the ways in which it impacts the body’s hormones and fat metabolism.
- Improve Insulin Sensitivity: When you are no longer giving your body regular doses of sugar, either natural or synthetic, by fasting the body will, in turn, secrete less insulin. These lower levels will in turn increase sensitivity to the hormone in those who are experiencing insulin resistance.
- Feel Full Faster and Longer: Through its impact on the hormone leptin fasting is able to encourage the body’s hunger levels and satisfaction following a meal.
- Promote Better Cellular Health: Conditions such as famine and fasting have been found to promote a process within the body in which it works to destroy malfunctioning cells and tissues, selective protecting healthier tissues.
Risks of Fasting:
Over time your body adjusts to a regular meal schedule, adjusting to your regular breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack habits. Fasting breaks these habits, which can be a challenge for the body. Initially, the impact of this change can disrupt sleep patterns and increase stress levels, however, in time, it will begin to adjust to the body’s ‘new normal’ during the fasting period.
Many who are new to the fasting process are unaware of the high risk of dehydration, leading to headaches and, if left unmanaged, more serious health concerns. It is important that those practicing a fasting diet ensure that they are consuming plenty of water to counteract these symptoms.
Experts also warn that relying solely upon periods of fasting has been found ineffective for long-term weight loss goals unless it is backed up by a change in food and nutrition habits. Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Weight Loss Management Center explained, “The appeal is that [fasting] is quick, but it is quick fluid loss, not substantial weight loss. If it’s easy off, it will come back quickly – as soon as you start eating normally again.”
Some even believe that incorporating fasting as part of a weight loss plan may actually impede their efforts to improve upon their eating habits, leading them away from the recommended 5 helpings of fruit and vegetables each day, and in some cases even going as far as triggering eating disorders.
Fitness and nutrition expert JJ Virgin advised, “The ‘anything goes’ mentality some experts permit during the feeding state could lead someone to overeat, creating guilt, shame, and other problems that only become worse over time. For someone with emotional or psychological eating disorders, intermittent fasting could become a convenient crutch to amplify these issues.”
If you are looking to use a fasting diet in your weight loss efforts, it is recommended that you do so after consulting with your family doctor.