As the trend for intermittent fasting rises, we decided to find out what the hype is about. We asked the founder and author of 2 meal day, Max Lowery, to tell us more about the health benefits. Over to Max...
Intermittent fasting (IF) is proving to be a simple and effective strategy for avoiding major dietary changes while achieving strong effects not just for one disease risk factor, but for an array of factors that constitutes the foundation for metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and possibly neurodegenerative diseases. Most importantly it is becoming a way of life for so many people.
Lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes
IF has been shown to combat the worldwide problem of “Metabolic Syndrome” defined as having a high amount of visceral fat, combined with insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, and/ or high blood pressure.
Having just one of these conditions doesn’t mean you have Metabolic Syndrome. However, any of these conditions increase your risk of serious disease. Having more than one of these might increase your risk even more. Intermittent Fasting makes you more Insulin sensitive, the opposite of being insulin resistant, as well as being very effective at decreasing visceral fat and triglycerides.
Boost the immune system
Fasting not only protects against immune system damage — a major side effect of chemotherapy — but also induces immune system regeneration, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal.
A recent study done by Valter D Longo, one of the leading researchers in fasting concluded that in mice and human, fasting lowered white blood cell counts, which in turn triggered the immune system to start producing new white blood cells. White blood cells (or lymphocytes) are a key component of your body’s immune system.
On October 3rd, 2016, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries of mechanisms that underpin the process known as autophagy.
Autophagy is a cellular maintenance process – stimulated by fasting – that is critical in disease resistance, longevity and general body and brain vitality.
How does it work? Your cells create membranes that hunt out scraps of dead, diseased, or worn-out cells; Autophagy then uses the resulting molecules for energy or to make new cell parts.
It’s like your bodies innate recycling mechanism. Autophagy makes us more efficient machines to get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes.
There’s also evidence that the process plays a hand in controlling inflammation and immunity.
Slowing down the ageing process
Now that you understand the process Autophagy, you can begin to understand why there is a large community of scientist who believes that fasting is the key to longevity.
Scientists have known since the 1930s that if they want to increase the lifespan of test rats, they put them on an intermittent fasting schedule like the alternate-day fasting method, whereby they eat normally one day and then fast the next.
Fasting reduces oxidative stress which is essentially an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralisation by antioxidants. It is one of the main factors that contribute towards ageing and many chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Given the known benefits of metabolism and all sorts of health markers, it makes sense that intermittent fasting could help you live a longer and healthier life.
Although weight loss may be your primary reason for trying intermittent fasting, I believe that focusing on the above benefits can mean that this way of eating can become a sustainable and enjoyable way of life. It’s always better to do something for positive reasons, rather than negative reasons. Weight loss should be the by-product of Intermittent Fasting, not the sole aim
Having said that IF has been shown to be incredibly effective at promoting fat loss and retaining lean muscle mass, which is the holy grail of weight loss.
About four to five hours after we finish eating, our insulin levels (the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar) begin to fall and this triggers a series of hormonal changes as we start to enter a fasted state. At first, the body uses its stores of glycogen (energy from carbohydrates is stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles and liver), but when these are depleted, the body starts to turn to fat for energy.
We are naturally fat-burning machines and fat is the preferred fuel source for most of our day-to-day activities such as walking, working and steady-state cardio like running or cycling. Physiologically, we are still the same as when we were hunter-gatherers. We need a certain amount of body fat to survive, so if we constantly eat food our bodies will only burn glucose (sugar)/glycogen (stored carbohydrate) for energy and will hold on to fat reserves.
We have to trick the body into thinking there isn’t food around to start burning fat for energy. Getting the body to burn fat rather than glucose for energy is key to most of the health benefits of fasting and is why it is so effective as a weight-loss tool. Fasting has also been shown to have the greatest effect on decreasing visceral fat – the dangerous fat stored around the belly and internal organs and which can cause Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Disclaimer: Always consult your doctor if you're considering intermittent fasting.
To read more about intermittent fasting head over to Max's website at www.2mealday.com or check out his Instagram page @max.lowery.
Also check out our guide to Omega 3, intermittent fasting, keto and paleo.