Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting has more scientific backing

If you are one who is looking to eat healthy and have been playing around with fad diets, intermittent fasting is emerging as a new lifestyle that you could embrace.

From being dismissed as a fad diet, it now emerges that intermittent fasting is backed by solid science. The alternate cycles of feeding and fasting can help one lose weight but also bring forth a host of health benefits, including better insulin sensitivity, reduced cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels.

The benefits of intermittent fasting goes way beyond the shedding of a few kilos, for it “unlocks cellular and molecular mechanisms and pathways in the body that leads to increased expression of antioxidant defences, DNA repair, protein quality control, mitochondrial biogenesis and autophagy, and down-regulation of inflammation”, all of which leads to improved and robust organ functioning, says an article, Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Ageing, and Disease in the December 26, 2019 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

These pathways are untapped or suppressed in persons who overeat and are sedentary.

In combination with the right foods and physical activity, intermittent fasting is a legitimate lifestyle option that one can adopt, they say. Intermittent fasting is not about the restriction of any food groups but all about restricting your eating to a specific time window during the day, to achieve a fasting period of at least 12 to 16 hours.

Fasting cycle

The easiest way to do it would be to finish your last meal of the day at 7 or 8 p.m. By 8 a.m next day, you would have achieved 12 hours fasting. As your body get used to this time window, you could slowly extend it to 16 hours to get the true benefits of intermittent fasting. In short, you alternate between a 12 noon to 8 p.m. feeding period and an 8 p.m to 12 noon fasting period. One is allowed to have black coffee or green tea without sugar during the fasting period.

Ensure proper hydration and that one consumes enough fruits and vegetables. Another way of fasting would be to have a calorie-restricted meal twice in a week.

Glucose stored in the liver is the primary source of energy for the body. During fasting, once this source is exhausted, a metabolic shift occurs and the body starts using the fat (triglycerides) stored in adipose tissue for energy. The liver converts the triglycerides as ketones.

Ketone bodies are not just fuel used during periods of fasting; they are potent signalling molecules with major effects on cell and organ functions. Ketone bodies regulate the expression and activity of many proteins and molecules which have profound implications for health, especially brain health and ageing.

From the evolutionary point also, human ancestors, who lived in forests, hunting and foraging for food, were used to the feeding and fasting cycles.

Our routine of three solid meals a day is not a physiologic requirement but a mere habit enforced by the clock. Fasting helps the body utilise stored up fat for energy and also triggers physiological processes like autophagy (an important process of body repair and rejuvenation). Intermittent fasting, provided one eats right and not in calorie excess, is a most suitable way to shed excess body fat, which is the primary cause for many ailments.

Doctors’ advice

Those with diabetes or other health conditions should take up fasting only under a doctor’s advice and supervision.

Safety, practicality, and sustainability of intermittent fasting is always questioned. Overnight results may not be there. Till one’s body get used to the new routine, one might feel hungry, irritated and tired at times. There might be people who binge eat during the feeding window. But most people settle down comfortably when benefits start accruing slowly.

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