The Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

In 2007 the Intermountain Medical Center of Utah published an eye opening observational study of over 5000 members of the Church of Latter Day Saints detailing the potential links between their regular use of fasting (once a month for religious reasons in their case) and their low rates of coronary heart disease.

Since 2007, the Intermountain Medical Center and other scientific communities have conducted more observational, and more clinically rigorous studies, to examine the potential benefits of intermittent fasting and have made some promising discoveries.

So what exactly is intermittent fasting?  What are the health benefits of intermittent fasting?  Is intermittent fasting a good tool for weight loss?  And how often should we fast and for how long?

Here, in Part I of my intermittent fasting series I will cover what exactly intermittent fasting is and the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting.  In Part II I’ll go into detail about intermittent fasting and weight loss.  And in Part III I’ll go into detail about how often one should fast for and for how long.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Put simply, intermittent fasting is a term used to describe a period of time where we purposefully choose to go without consuming any foods or liquids other than water.  Today, intermittent fasting generally implies a period of 16-36 hours without eating.

The Primary Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Since the Intermountain Medical Center’s 2007 study, additional studies have been conducted that have shown intermittent fasting to reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease, lower one’s risk of developing type II diabetes, and increase cellular health and longevity.  And intermittent fasting has also been shown to be a very effective weight loss tool.

Intermittent Fasting and Coronary Heart Disease

Intermittent fasting (IF) has been shown to reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease in five primary ways.  IF reduces traditional measurements of LDL (bad) cholesterol, which when high indicate an elevated risk of developing coronary artery disease.  IF increases the size of LDL particles, which when small have a higher probability of penetrating your arterial walls, which in turn leads to arterial plaque buildup.  IF decreases the number of LDL particles per unit of blood, which reduces the potential for arterial plaque build up.  IF decreases blood triglyceride levels, which when high are also an indicator of a high risk for coronary artery disease.  And intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce chronic inflammation, a condition that itself increases one’s risk for developing coronary artery disease.

Intermittent Fasting and Diabetes

Studies examining the effects of intermittent fasting on biological markers indicating an elevated risk for developing diabetes have found intermittent fasting to have a positive affect on two important metrics. First, intermittent fasting has been shown to lower resting insulin concentrations.  Second, intermittent fasting has been shown to lower resting blood glucose levels. High resting insulin concentrations and high levels of resting blood glucose indicate that our cells are, or have become, insulin resistant. The more resistant to insulin our cells become, the higher our risk for developing type II diabetes..

Intermittent Fasting and Cellular Health

With regards to longevity and cellular health, every time we ingest food it takes a great number of chemical reactions to digest, process, absorb, transport, and store the nutrients we derive from our food.  An unavoidable byproduct of each of these essential reactions are negatively charged free floating electrons popularly known as free radicals.  Free radicals seek to neutralize their charge and in the process can cause a great deal of damage to our cells and our DNA.

When we fast, we don’t eat. When we don’t eat we don’t need to digest, process, absorb, transport, and store anything.  When we don’t need to do so we avoid the untold number of chemical reactions associated with these processes and in turn we avoid the production of a further untold number of free radicals.  Less free radicals equals less cellular and DNA damage.  Less damage equals healthier cells and a higher functioning bodily system.

Rounding It Up

While more research needs to be done to ensure there are no harmful long term effects from regular use of intermitting fasting, the initial findings are very promising.  Intermittent fasting’s effects on biological components that effect coronary artery disease, diabetes, and cellular health appear positive and profound.

For more information on intermittent fasting and weight loss, see Part II of this series. And for more information on the most popular intermitting fasting frequencies and lengths, see Part III.

To Our Health