Intermittent fasting, an ancient practice, has become a trending topic. I’ll tell you what it is and why it’s so popular. Hint: A number of recent studies show that fasting can have a beneficial effect on weight, glucose regulation, body composition, and inflammation.1 I’ll also explain why it’s important to take a high-quality multivitamin if you choose to fast.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) patterns cycle between periods of eating and refraining from eating. Historically, fasting was practiced during periods of mourning and protest, and for religious observances. Additionally, fasting has been used for promoting health as far back as the 5th century in the belief that fasting assisted in recovering from illness.2 Intermittent fasting continues to evolve as studies lead to a better understanding of how periods of calorie restriction affect our bodies.
Some popular patterns of intermittent fasting include:
- Alternate-Day Fasting: Abstaining from eating for 24-hour periods every other day.
- Modified Fasting: Also known as the 5:2 method or intermittent energy restriction. It calls for two non-consecutive fasting days per week consisting of 500 calories or less.
- Time-Restricted Fasting: A common intermittent fasting pattern in the health and wellness community consisting of 14-, 16-, or 24-hour fasts.
If you maintain the fundamental nutrient levels your body requires, you can achieve other goals such as weight loss, and gut repair. In addition to a healthy diet, you can optimize nutrient intake with supplements to reach the ideal levels of vitamins and minerals.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
1. Helps Repair a Leaky Gut
During a fast, you are abstaining from many inflammatory proteins including a protein found in gluten that activates zonulin. Zonulin is a chemical that tells the tight junctions in your gut lining to open. This creates gaps in your gut wall that large particles can escape through into your bloodstream.
During a study conducted on the effects of IF, zonulin levels decreased and the gut lining became less permeable.3 Reducing intestinal permeability is the key to repairing a leaky gut, which is a precursor to many autoimmune conditions. By helping to heal leaky gut, IF may reduce symptoms of autoimmunity triggered by undigested food particles, microbes, and toxins.
Fasting patterns can also increase the breakdown of fats and decrease the size of fat cells. The smaller fat cells secrete fewer inflammatory proteins such as leptin,4 and decrease chances of inflammation in the body. Smaller fat cells may lead to reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes, or degenerative diseases including autoimmunity and cancer.5
2. May Mitigate the Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Fasting prior to chemotherapy may impact the severity of its side effects. In a small study, patients reported a reduction in fatigue, weakness, and gastrointestinal side effects while fasting. Fasting for 48 or more hours protected cells from various chemotherapy drugs.6
This is due to differential stress resistance (DSR). DSR occurs when starved cells from fasting switch off signals for growth and reproduction and enter a protective state. The mutated cancer cells are not protected by DSR and do not respond to stressed conditions like starvation.7 Thus, they are killed by chemotherapeutic drugs while the body’s normal cells are protected.
More research is needed to develop this technique to help healthy cells combat chemotherapy and its side effects. However, fasting has been shown to be beneficial in slowing the aging process of cells due to DSR, which impacts many different signalling pathways in the body.8
3. Supports Brain Health
Fasting can also result in the production of ketones that are produced when your body does not have a sufficient amount of carbohydrates to use for energy.9 Ketones are able to cross the blood-brain barrier so the brain can use them as a source of energy.10 This means that your brain does not rely exclusively on glucose (sugar) that needs insulin to enter cells.
In addition to optimizing brain function, a study on alternate-day fasting in mice showed that it increases energy metabolism and the stress response of cells. This protects neurons against genetic and environmental factors the brain can succumb to during aging.11 A decrease in damage to aging brain neurons shows that IF patterns may help prevent the development of neurodegenerative disorders.12
4. Can Lead to Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting has been touted as a way to support weight loss efforts. The reason fasting works for weight loss is because fasting can limit calorie intake. Despite this, people who do IF must get the right amounts of nutrients in their diets. During eating windows, choose nutrient-dense foods such as organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, and healthy fats.
While IF can be a great tool for weight loss, it is only effective if fasting days are not broken by unhealthy eating windows. Filling eating windows with high-calorie junk foods that lack nutrients can harm your body and derail your progress.
The most effective fasting pattern for weight loss is alternate-day fasting. It can reduce body weight by an average of 5% in as little as three weeks.13 If you’re interested in alternate-day fasting (or any fasting pattern for that matter) I recommend discussing it with your healthcare provider before beginning.
Time-restricted fasting may also result in weight loss for a different reason. With this daily fasting pattern you consume most of your food earlier in the day, which is associated with lower body weight.14 In some studies, time-restricted fasting such as fasting for 16 hours also resulted in decreased body fat percentages and promoted fat loss and the breakdown of fat in the body,15,16 which can lower your body mass index (BMI).
Remember, it’s not a good idea to skip breakfast. It really is the most important meal of the day! You stop eating during the night, which counts as part (or all) of a fast. Then your blood sugar is low when you wake up, so it’s important to fuel up. In one study, people who ate breakfast had a lower BMI than those who didn’t, even if they eat more calories.17
5. Supports Healthy Insulin Levels
The lower body fat percentages that can result from IF can also support a healthy insulin response. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose in your blood enter your cells where it’s used for energy. Insulin resistance is when your cells don’t respond well to the hormone. Among other reasons, excess belly fat can cause insulin receptors to begin to fail.18
IF has reduced levels of insulin in the body, which increases insulin sensitivity and reduces the risk of insulin resistance. This means that an IF diet benefits glucose metabolism and may even have anti-diabetic effects.19 Insulin resistance is associated with higher levels of inflammation in the body. Because IF increases insulin sensitivity, it may lower inflammation levels and reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses and autoimmune disease.
What You Need to Know If You Want to Try Intermittent Fasting
1. It’s Not For Everyone
Intermittent fasting diets, as well as caloric restriction, may exacerbate symptoms of hormonal imbalance, thyroid conditions, and adrenal fatigue. Women are especially sensitive to these effects. In some studies, intermittent fasts for women resulted in distraction and low mood.20
Hunger hormones, sleep patterns, and even menstrual cycles can be affected by fasting cycles and nutrient deficiency from energy restriction. Some people who try intermittent fasting for weight loss find it’s not sustainable. That’s simply due to scheduling issues, and feeling too hungry or fatigued. If you are dealing with hormonal imbalance, chronic fatigue, or you have a very low body fat percentage, discuss fasting with your doctor.
If your goal is to lose weight, determine if it’s time to adjust your IF pattern once you’ve reached your ideal body weight. Remember that calorie restriction is also energy restriction, and your body needs fuel to function optimally. If you continue to fast, you must ensure that you are consuming enough calories and nutrients during your eating windows.
2. Start Slow
When you are ready to start intermittent fasting, ease yourself into the cycle. Start with larger eating windows and gradually work your way to smaller windows until you find what fits your lifestyle best. Depending on your activity levels, you may need to eat more. You might also want to adjust your eating window to coincide with more active days so you don’t feel hungry.
3. Support Your Body!
It’s important to provide your body with all the vitamins and nutrients it needs to function optimally, especially when you’re following a fasting program. Incorporate nutrient-dense foods such as organic vegetables and grass-fed meats with slow-releasing energy that will keep you full and energized throughout your fasting period. It’s critical to add a high-quality multivitamin such as The Myers Way® Multivitamin to ensure you’re filling in any gaps not met by diet alone. Take it with the first meal of your day to ensure optimal absorption of all the nutrients.
Due to soil depletion and other factors, our bodies are already absorbing fewer nutrients than they should be. Intermittent fasting can make it even more difficult to provide your body with all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it needs during your eating windows.
So it’s important to supplement your diet with a potent, bioavailable multivitamin to meet your body’s needs. My custom-formulated multivitamin contains the ideal blend of methylated B vitamins, chelated minerals, vitamin D, and calcium as well as others in forms your body can absorb effectively.
If you hope to lose weight, support a healthy gut microbiome, or reverse the symptoms of autoimmunity, intermittent fasting can help you get results.