What is Intermittent Fasting

How this unappealing process can be the most benefiical to your health- changing the function of cells, hormones, and even genes.

What can Intermittent Fasting do For You?

The initial thought of fasting might not be a decision that most people opt for. However, intermittent fasting—an eating pattern in which you adhere to a specific time window in which you may or may not eat—has been shown to have powerful benefits for both the brain and the body.

In fact, intermittent fasting has been proven to change the function of cells, hormones, and even genes. When the body goes without food for a while, it begins to induce cellular repair, decrease insulin within the blood (which aids in fat burn), increase levels of the human growth hormone (which promotes muscle gain and fat loss), and can lead to changes in several genes related to inflammation and protection against disease. For example, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys have revealed that each 3 hour increase in nighttime fasting duration was associated with significantly lower C-reactive protein (an inflammatory biomarker) concentrations in women, who consumed less than 30% of their daily calories after 5 p.m. Other studies performed on mice have also shown that intermittent fasting protects against inflammation through protecting the gut against the impacts of stress.

Yet, perhaps most interesting is intermittent fasting’s ability to promote brain health through improving various metabolic features that serve to reduce oxidative stress and blood sugar levels. Studies performed in mice have shown that intermittent fasting can increase the growth of new nerve cells in addition to the brain protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF plays a significant role influencing brain function as well as the peripheral nervous system, and helps stimulate neurogenesis—the process by which nervous system cells are produced. It also plays a critical role in neuronal growth and survival, and participates in neuronal plasticity—also referred to as brain plasticity, or the ability of the brain to change throughout one’s lifetime.

Set boundaries and stick to them. I find that most people know they “should” incorporate more self-care, but their lives are moving so fast that it’s challenging to slow down. Carve out an hour of alone time to make two lists: things in your life that give you energy and are life-giving and things in your life that drain you. Figure out which draining activities you have control over and start making an action plan of how you will reduce time spent on these activities — set boundaries, say NO.

Last but not least, intermittent fasting gives your gut a chance to rest and repair. It has a profound effect on the functioning of your gut microbiome and possibly the brain, through cleansing the gut by removing toxic substances. Research has only just started to reveal the ability of inter mittent fasting to restore microbe diversity in the gut, and restore the intestinal epithelium (the layer of cells that forms the lining of the small and large intestines). One study performed in 2014 found that intermittent fasting led to a heightened immune response in mice that were exposed to salmonella, and helped to clear the pathogenic bacteria more quickly from their systems.

So, how do you actually do it? There are a couple ways to go about implementing intermittent fasting into your weekly routine. Two popular methods I’ve tried are the 16/8 and 5:2 methods. The 16/8 method entails fasting for 16 hours each day so that your eating is restricted to an 8-10 hour eating window while the 5:2 method entails fasting for 2 days per week, essentially consuming around 500-600 calories during those two days. Choose an option that works for you, but don’t forget that eating healthy is a must throughout the fast. If you want to optimize your health, feed your body what it needs. Rather than looking at intermittent fasting as a way to lose weight (which you’ll probably experience along the way), view at as a means to enhance your hormone function, facilitate cellular repair, and reap some of the incredible benefits mentioned above.