By Dr. Tony Hampton
The warm temperatures and increased physical activity that come with spring and summer means many people will be eating less.
That means it could be a good time to introduce intermittent fasting (IF) to your lifestyle. Of all the things I have done to improve my health, IF has been the easiest and made the most difference.
I chose the 16/8 fast, which means I eat during an eight-hour window primarily between noon and 8 p.m., allowing my body to fast for 16 hours. Intermittent fasting (avoiding food for shorter periods) can be just as beneficial as periodic fasting (avoiding food for 24 hours or longer).
Variations of intermittent fasting include 16/8, Warrior diet (fast for 20 hours), Eat-Stop-Eat (fast between dinners) and 5/2 fast (2 days per week, your calories are reduced to 500 calories daily).
Here are some of the benefits of any approach you choose:
- Supports mental clarity and brain health: Mental clarity is very important to most of us. Studies have shown that IF enhances cognitive function, protects against memory loss and dementia and generally slows the brain aging process.
- Promotes weight loss: It may not surprise you that skipping a meal will result in weight loss, but it’s about more than reducing the number of calories you consume. When fasting, your body will automatically start to use stored fat and ketone bodies as energy sources. In other words, your body will become a fat-burning machine.
- Reduces hunger: I have a reputation at work for never being seen eating. It’s so unusual that when I do eat, some team members come around to see me in action. That’s because fasting can result in decreased hunger. This is partly because you are using your body fat stores as energy. You also reduce leptin hormone resistance when fasting. Leptin hormone is your satiety hormone. With less leptin hormone resistance, your feeling of being full will be greater, resulting in a decreased desire to eat.
- Helps to reverse type 2 diabetes and improve blood glucose control: Instead of relying on carbohydrates/glucose as an energy source, people who fast will use ketones (fat) as energy. With a switch from metabolism depending on glucose to ketones, blood glucose (sugar) levels will be better controlled without the spikes and crashes diabetics frequently experience. Over time, insulin sensitivity improves, which ultimately could start the process of reversing type 2 diabetes.
- Improves cholesterol markers: The so-called good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) is only improved by a few things: Exercise, high-fat diets and IF.
- Advances anti-inflammatory benefits: Of all the things you can do to improve your overall health, reducing inflammation may be one of the biggest keys. Whether you suffer from arthritis, obesity or simply want to reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes or stroke, IF may provide an answer. By giving your body a break from inflammatory foods by not eating, you can reduce inflammation and all the medical conditions associated with it.
- Improves cellular repair: Through a process called autophagy, cellular waste removal can be accelerated, removing dysfunctional cells that build up in your body. This may protect against cancer and dementia.
- May extend your lifespan: When studies on rats are done with IF, they have extended lifespans. In one study, rats that fasted every other day lived 83 percent longer than rats who did not fast. More studies need to be done to prove the same is true for humans.
IF is generally safe for most of us, but discussing this with your doctor first is always a good idea. People who should use caution include those who are pregnant or have adrenal, thyroid or gallbladder conditions. Children and those with eating disorders also may not be the best candidates. Diabetics, in consultation with their doctors or advanced practice clinicians, may need to reduce or adjust medications.
Dr. Tony Hampton is a family medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group.