Intermittent Fasting – Hype or Help? 

Fasting is the act of abstaining from food for a set period of time and has been used for religious purposes for centuries.  Many people will often think of deprivation when they hear the term fasting as it conjures up memories of Gandhi from history class or fasting during Lent or Ramadan.  More recently, fasting has been used a weight management tool.  However, the benefits of fasting or intermittent fasting exceed just weight management.

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Mark P. Mattson, Ph.D. and his co-author Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D. revealed data that indicated a host of benefits from intermittent fasting including a longer life and stronger memory.  The process can protect organs from chronic illness such as Type II diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancers among others.  Below are 8 ways the body and mind can benefit from intermittent fasting:

  • Improved Mood – many foods we eat have added antibiotics and hormones. These added hormones can affect our moods for the worse sometimes.  Fasting gives our body time to rebalance our hormones and dispel any unnecessary added hormones.
  • Tissue Damage – in studies with mice, fasting helped repair tissue post-surgery and improved results.
  • Liver – fasting gives your liver an opportunity to rid your body of harmful food by-products and to rest. If you have liver problems already, check with your physician to see if fasting will help or hinder your prognosis.
  • Athletic or Physical Performance – in a study involving young men, fasting reduced body fat but allowed the men to maintain muscle mass. In another study with mice, fasting showed improvements in endurance.
  • Heart Health – fasting improves blood pressure and resting heartrate in addition to other heart related illnesses.
  • Colon Health – fasting gives your body ample time to clear waste; in turn this may increase energy levels and reduce bloating.
  • Brain Health – studies in mice have reportedly shown a boost in working memory; others have shown growth in new nerve cells.
  • Reduction in Pain – some people have experienced a reduction in pain when following intermittent fasting. It is believed that while the body is able to rest from digestive activities, it is able to better focus on repairing damage in the body causing pain.

Intermittent fasting may be a popular weight loss method, but its benefits extend beyond that.  As noted above, it can improve the quality of life by reducing pain and increasing energy levels as well as help prevent certain diseases.  There are many ways to practice intermittent fasting and numerous apps to assist in the endeavor.  We will explore these practices in our next article.

Written by Kelly Reising who is passionate about nutrition, fitness and health. 

Dr. Mc Millan is a Board-Certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeon practicing in the Virtua Health System of south Jersey.  For more information please visit or follow us on twitter @sportsdrsean. 

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