Power Up With Intermittent Fasting
Eating too often undermines health and fitness every which way from Sunday. Based on that knowledge, over the past couple of decades science has been looking into questions about the potential benefits of eating less often. Specifically, this topic is often referred to as ‘intemittent fasting’ – i.e., periodic bouts without eating.
It is no surprise that at least some of the benefits of intermittent fasting (IF) overlap with those of calorie restriction (CR). CR typically means cutting back the amount of food you eat by as much as 30 percent at every meal. As you can imagine, this is not very appealing for most people. Even those who practice CR state that they are always hungry.
IF, on the other hand, provides benefits from fasting as little as once a week for 18-24 hours at a time. Research on how often and how long fasting should be varies. At the very minimum, fasting from dinner one evening until breakfast the next morning, 12-14 hours total, is a bottom-line must for getting any benefit at all.
SUMMARY OF RESEARCH RESULTS
A short list of the effects from IF in research studies includes the following array of benefits:
Reduces body fat and body weight
Helps build and maintain skeletal muscle mass
Reduces blood glucose levels
Reduces insulin levels
Increases insulin sensitivity
Increases lipolysis (fat breakdown) and fat oxidation
Increases Uncoupling Protein-3 mRNA (leads to burning more calories)
Increases adrenaline and noradrenaline levels
Increases glucagon levels
Reduces chronic systemic inflammation from food-related stress
Increases cellular cleansing
Increases growth hormone levels (the biggest benefit of all?)
The very first item, reduction of body fat, highlights one of the key differences between IF and CR. Intermittent fasting actually boosts the metabolism of fat more efficiently than does CR.
Some of the above items may seem a little technical. However, they show how important IF is in health research. Scientists do not do research just for the fun of it. They choose subject material because of its importance as reflected in the grant money that they can get for doing it. In other words, IF is big.
BIOLOGY OF INTERMITTENT FASTING
Scientists are geeks by nature, so they have been looking into how IF works. So far what they have come up with what has become one of the hottest topics in scientific research over the past couple of decades. It loosely entails what we think of as our cellular garbage collection and disposal system.
Cells come and go. Proteins, hormones, even DNA itself, and other products of normal metabolism come and go. The cellular garbage collection and disposal system makes sure that everything that is old and worn out gets removed so that it doesn’t hamper the ongoing building processes for new stuff. If too much garbage hangs around too long, then cells are unable to function properly. Such cellular dysfunction is the foundation for virtually all modern diseases.
Scientists, of course, are too nerdy to call this system something in English. They have a technical name for it instead: autophagy. This is a great term, because it means ‘eating self’. Pretty cool, huh?
Like any garbage handling process, autophagy can get overloaded. Overload happens as a consequence of eating too often. This is where fasting (IF, as well as proper meal spacing between dinner and breakfast) comes to the rescue. It allows autophagy to work the way it is supposed to.
The bottom line is that autophagy gets gummed up when you eat too often; intermittent fasting fixes it. In other words, a long, healthy life depends on it.
Let’s hear it for better autophagy through IF!
ONE MORE THING
Unfortunately, autophagy, like everything else, loses efficiency as you age. Food digestion, immune system, brain function, muscle mass, bone strength, organ function, fat metabolism … anything and everything that you can think of drops off with diminishing autophagy.
The challenge is to make sure that your health drop-off is not any faster than it should be. Eating right, which includes IF, is of crucial importance for doing so.
Here is the kicker: It appears that the value of doing IF increases with aging. The older you get, the more frequent your fasting days should be for staying healthy. Folks in their 20s or 30s can benefit from IF just once per week. However, those in their 60s and beyond will benefit the most from IF when it is done 3-4 times per week, or the equivalent of every other day.