Tuesday, April 16, 2024

How fasting can benefit your health

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Millions of Muslims all throughout the world are fasting during this holy month of Ramadan. This involves abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset for a total of 30 days.

So how does fasting affect health? Below are some of the health benefits associated with fasting.

Promoting Weight Loss
In a meta-analysis that looked at the results of 18 different studies, metabolic parameters such as weight loss, fat mass and lipid profile were compared between those that participated in intermittent fasting and those that participated in a regular diet with continuous caloric restriction. The research, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that intermittent fasting was associated with higher weight loss in four studies, decreased fat mass in five studies and significant decreases in lipid profile in three studies when compared to continuous caloric restriction.

Intermittent fasting could prove to be a valuable option for the millions of Americans struggling with weight control. More than 2 in 5 American adults are obese, and nearly 1 in 3 adults are overweight, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Curbing the obesity epidemic in America will need a multi-faceted approach, and diets that are effective should be emphasized by healthcare providers to help with this effort.

Enhancing Cardiovascular Health
A review of seven randomized-controlled trials involving over 250 participants compared cardiovascular outcomes between those that practiced alternate-day fasting and those that did not fast. The meta-analysis research, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, assessed outcomes such as weight, total cholesterol, triglycerides, total caloric intake, systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure to name a few.

Compared to those that did not fast, those that practiced alternate-day fasting had statistically significant lower values of total cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure.

High cholesterol and high blood pressure are both well-known risk factors for heart disease, the leading causeof death among both American men and women. Fasting can serve to mitigate some of the risk factors of heart disease, leading to overall increased cardiovascular health among the American population.

Reducing Inflammation
Long-lasting inflammation in the body is known to lead to the development of a number of diseases, including but not limited to heart disease and cancer. Some studies have shown that intermittent fasting can decrease inflammatory markers in the body.

As an example, a small study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise that enrolled 20 participants assessed the effect of inflammatory markers between those that ate a normal diet versus those that practiced intermittent fasting. The participants that fasted had significantly decreased inflammatory markers when compared to those that ate a normal diet. Some of the inflammatory markers measured included interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha, which are both proteins that help induce an inflammatory state in the body.

Augmenting Brain Health
A focus of recent research has examined the increased production of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor that is associated with memory, learning and enhanced cognitive function. Animal studieshave shown that intermittent fasting can increase levels of BDNF, although more research is needed to confirm if this can be applied to humans. If intermittent fasting results in upregulated levels of BDNF in humans, then that could open the door to improve brain health, particularly in patients with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

Although fasting holds many beneficial health effects, it should be practiced with caution. Fasting for long periods of time can induce muscle loss, nutritional deficiencies and fatigue. Consulting with your healthcare provider remains paramount before starting fasting regiments, particularly for individuals with pre-existing health conditions. When done judiciously, fasting can have profound effects on metabolism, cardiovascular health and brain function.

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