Intermittent Fasting has become a popular term among the health conscious in recent years for a type of eating pattern, having gained increased popularity over the last few years among people looking to lose weight, reduce inflammation, promote health and retain muscle tone. But let’s take a closer look at what intermittent fasting entails. 

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Fasting has been practiced by humans since the beginning of time because not until our recent past have we been able to refrigerate food or have food available to us constantly. Fasting has also been practiced in many religions and cultures around the world, with the Ramadam fast practiced by Muslims, being one of the most researched human studies for the effects of Intermittent Fasting. As a result humans have evolved to be able to fast for periods of time switching from the utilisation of glucose for energy to the use of ketones naturally.

The idea is that we utilise a smaller window of time for our food intake, allowing longer periods of time for the body, in particular our digestive system to rest and perform it’s maintenance and repairs. During periods of fasting, animal studies shows that certain genes are triggered which activate important repair processes. These are the genes which are also associated with longevity (1). Additionally, fat stores are mobilise for energy during the extended times of fasting. 

There are various options available, such as the 16/8 Diet where you fast for 16 hours and eat during 8 hours of the day. The Alternate-Day Fasting where you fast every other day, or the Eat-Stop-Eat Fast where you choose two non consecutive days to fast on, while eating normally during the other five days.  

What are the potential benefits for Health?

There have been very few human studies of intermittent fasting and most of the evidence comes from animal studies and the correlation of the reduced calorie intake which fasting can provide. 

Weight loss & Improved muscle mass

Due to the combined effect of the reduced calorie intake and the utilisation of fat stores during periods of fasting this is a popular weight management technique for many people (2). Fasting also works by the modulation of hormones such as leptin, which controls satiety (3). 

A study conducted on resistance-trained men, showed that an intermittent fasting program in which all calories are consumed in an 8-h window each day, in conjunction with resistance training, could improve some health-related biomarkers, decrease fat mass, and maintain muscle mass. (4)

Reduced inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to fight against pathogens which enter the body. However, chronic inflammation, where the immune system is constantly triggered to respond can lead to a number of chronic diseases. Some studies show that intermittent fasting could be beneficial for reducing inflammation by lowering levels of several inflammation markers including IL-1β, IL-6, and tumour necrosis factor. (5)(6)

Improved Insulin tolerance

The hormone insulin is responsible for allowing glucose to enter our cells where it can be utilised for energy. The term insulin resistance refers to the point at which the body’s cells are no longer responding to insulin’s message, therefore sugar is then allowed to freely flow through our blood stream where it’s inflammatory effect can be devastating. One study conducted on 20 healthy men following a Ramadam fast, showed that blood sugar levels declined by 12% over the course of the entire month. Not only that, but they also experienced an increase in insulin sensitivity, as insulin levels decreased by an incredible 53%. (7)

Longevity

The animal studies conducted on mice and rats show a 10%-30% life span increase due to intermittent fasting. The theory behind this is that the Sirtuin genes are triggered during fasting and caloric restriction, improving mitochondrial function, insulin sensitivity as mentioned above and bone density, while reducing the incidence of cancer and improving cognitive function. (8)

What are the drawbacks of Intermittent Fasting?

While the animal studies and the few human studies show promising benefits for Intermittent Fasting, the research is still in its infancy. Often times we can read headlines which sounds great on paper, but this way of eating is not necessarily for everyone. A reduced calorie intake can cause some serious hormonal changes, in particular in women who are already in the perimenopause or menopause, but not exclusively. While men might experience fat loss and greater muscle mass due to intermittent fasting, some women can experience irregular periods, infertility, and with this hormonal disruption the thyroid and adrenal glands can also be negatively impacted too. (9)

BP&T Recommends

Fasting for pregnant and breastfeeding women is not recommended as it can lead to nutritional insufficiency, and this is the case for everyone in fact. Even while fasting it is really important to consume nutrient dense foods for optimal health. Similarly, if you are suffering with a chronic condition it is best to seek professional advice before embarking on any kind of diet. 

Being in the profession I'm in I am always researching and experimenting so I can feedback to you guys, but also because I am on a mission to put my RA in remission. 

My own experience with Intermittent Fasting has been a positive one. I have been following the 16/8 rule for 5 days of the week and this seems to suit me very well. It allows me a couple of days to eat when I want to, while the rest of the time I start eating at midday and finish by 8pm. I occasionally also include a day fast. This helps me maintain a steady weight which benefits my joints, especially my knee joints, while I also notice lowered inflammation in the joints of my hands and feet. There are several studies which suggest that fasting for Rheumatoid Arthritis is very beneficial in reducing inflammatory markers and modulating the immune system. (10) The reason this way of eating works for me is that I feel satisfied by the meals I eat at lunch and dinner, rather than feeling constantly hungry and thinking about food which a calorie restriction diet makes me feel. 

Wether you have your breakfast at 8am or midday, remember that we are all individual! My advice would always be to listen to your body, to not push yourself when you know something feels wrong, to eat a healthy balanced diet full of real whole foods, plenty of fresh produce and lots of water to both maintain a healthy weight and lead a healthy lifestyle.

In the above picture there is coconut kefir, almond butter, strawberries, walnuts, desiccated coconut, hemp seeds, bee pollen and cinnamon. I love this as a first meal of the day whether early morning or at midday.