Fasting, the voluntary abstinence from food for a specific period, has been practiced for centuries across various cultures for religious, spiritual, and health reasons. In recent years, it has become a mainstream practice with scientific interest in abstaining from food surging. There has been an abundance of research exploring its potential benefits and implications for different populations. This is important as we need to consider our individual circumstances and whether fasting is right for us.
First, let’s look at the potential benefits.
Recent research underscores the impacts of fasting on cardiovascular health. For men, intermittent fasting exhibits positive effects on blood pressure, reducing the risk of hypertension and stroke. Additionally, fasting may influence cholesterol levels, contributing to a more favourable lipid profile. Positive outcomes include improved insulin sensitivity, improvements in vessel walls, and positive impacts on heart rate variability, collectively promoting heart health. In women, intermittent fasting similarly demonstrates positive effects on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and inflammatory markers. Fasting may equally contribute to better insulin sensitivity, improved vessel walls, and positive impacts on heart rate variability.
Is it good for everyone?
That’s quite a list! But is it always a good idea? Not necessarily. For example, women with irregular menstrual cycles need to exert caution. Fasting if done excessively and without proper nutrition can impact the delicate balance of hormones in the body. The body perceives fasting as a stressor and whilst minor stressors are beneficial to those without issues, fasting can trigger negative symptoms in those already compromised. In women with irregular periods, this could see further disruptions to the menstrual cycle and the development of other symptoms such as fatigue. This can be the case around menopause too when our ability to use glucose from foods becomes compromised.
In both men and women, if you suspect an issue around blood sugar control, especially during the night (waking can be a sign), missing breakfast could further negatively impact our blood sugar control. Issues with blood sugar can present in sub-clinical ways such as fatigue or anxiety too so it’s important to be mindful if this applies to you.
All of us need to manage our blood sugar to avoid conditions like Type II Diabetes and the disease now coined Diabetes Type III, Alzheimer’s. Blood sugar regulation is hugely important for brain health and fasting can be helpful in this regard but if you are already struggling with managing your blood sugar you will need close monitoring and guidance as you start experimenting with fasting.
If you are in a position to give fasting a go, you have plenty of choices.
Intermittent Fasting (IF): This approach involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. Common IF methods include the 16/8 method, where individuals fast for 16 hours and have an 8-hour eating window, and the 5:2 diet, which consists of regular eating for five days and significant calorie restriction for two non-consecutive days.
Time-Restricted Eating: Time-restricted eating is a form of intermittent fasting with a focus on the daily timing of meals. It typically involves confining food consumption to a specific window, such as eating only between noon and 8 PM. This approach aligns with the body’s circadian rhythms and may enhance metabolic processes.
Alternate-Day Fasting: Alternate-day fasting involves alternating between days of regular eating and days of either very low-calorie intake or complete fasting. This method allows for flexibility, but it may pose challenges in adherence for some individuals.
Extended Fasting: Extended fasting entails more prolonged periods of abstaining from food, often exceeding 48 hours. Extended fasting may induce deeper metabolic adaptations and autophagy, a cellular recycling process but do exert caution here and do so under supervision.
Fasting-Mimicking Diet (FMD): FMD involves consuming a low-calorie, plant-based diet designed to mimic the effects of fasting while still providing essential nutrients. This approach offers a compromise between fasting and traditional eating patterns, potentially making it more sustainable for some individuals.
Choosing the right method
Choosing the right fasting method depends on individual preferences, health status, and lifestyle. It’s essential to approach fasting with a balanced mindset, ensuring nutritional needs are met during eating periods and getting advice especially if you have pre-existing health conditions. Additionally, recognising the nuanced implications in both genders is important and highlights fasting as a versatile approach to cardiovascular well-being for both sexes.
Many people have had great success with fasting for weight-loss especially. I generally recommend it in one form or another in my clinic for this purpose. I recommend fasting at the end of the day (skipping dinner after a late lunch). Our insulin sensitivity is lower as this is more in tune with our natural circadian rhythm and is still very effective.
If you are pregnant I would not recommend fasting and you must consult your doctor if taking long-term medication or if you have complicated heath issues.
I hope you found this article interesting. As always, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to talk about your health goals.
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