Throughout most of the 2 million years of human history, inadvertent fasting was the norm. Food was not readily available until farming of wheat (around 8000 BC) the canning and drying of food. Still, humans are not built to be eating often. We are built for intermittent fasting. By eating 3-5 meals/day, we drown our cells in glucose and insulin and create insulin resistance. Up to 40% of the population of many developed nations now are categorized as diabetic or pre-diabetic.
Fasting is a common practice of most religions albeit for spiritual benefits. And while the religious teachings don’t talk about specific physical benefits, studies show that fasting, like controlled dieting has many health benefits. A number of studies on the effects of fasting on health have been going on for decades, but only in recent years have serious positive results been forthcoming. But, what are these health effects, and how does intermittent fasting lower insulin load and dramatically improve health?
Intermittent Fasting Can Lower Insulin Load
These questions are important, especially considering that for a long time, nutritionists have recommended that we eat many small meals throughout the day. This advice is being put to question as studies associate many health benefits with restricting consumption of meals to only a portion of the day, skipping meals for some days or reducing amounts of food eaten. Intermittent fasting is now associated with benefits like weight loss, reduced insulin resistance and reduced risk of chronic diseases and health conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.
But first, we need to understand what intermittent fasting is.
What is intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is different from dieting. It is more of a lifestyle shift which involves changing your eating patterns so that you take your meals within a particular period of time within the day and then fast for a particular amount of time. Intermittent fasting is, therefore, made up of periods of eating adequate amounts of food and periods of fasting. Additionally, intermittent fasting is not concerned with the type of food or the amount that you eat. Its basis is the amount of time you keep off of food and the length of time of day within which you eat.
It is also worth noting that humans are designed to keep away from eating for periods of time. This is evident from the natural sleeping times during which the body carries out detoxification, tissue repair and maintenance.
If you seek to fast intermittently, the natural approach is to extend the natural fasting time (sleeping time) by adding a number of hours to your fasting period before nightfall and in the morning after waking up. For instance, if you can eat your dinner at 6.00 p.m. and delay your fast meal of the next day to 10:00 a.m., you will end up fasting for a total of 16 hours in a day. You can then eat all your meals within the 8-hour window between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Overcoming the challenges of intermittent fasting
Following an intermittent fasting schedule can seem difficult at the beginning. However, by taking it slow and increasing your fasting time by an hour or two at a time, you can achieve the 16 hours within days or a few weeks by which time your body will adjust accordingly.
Note that for the fasting to be beneficial, you will need to keep off of taking any food or drink that contains calories during the fasting periods. Water, non-caloric beverages and supplements are, however, allowed.
Other types of intermittent fasting
24-hour fasting. This is observed once or twice in a week while normal eating goes on for the rest of the week. When done twice in a week, 24 hours fasting does not go on for two consecutive days.
500-calorie fasting. This type of intermittent fasting is done for 2 or 3 days in a week. It is similar to the 24-hour fasting in that normal eating goes on for most of the days of the week and the reduced calorie eating happens for a few days.
How intermittent fasting can lower insulin load
Extended periods without eating causes a reduction in metabolism. When this happens, the body goes into starvation mode and starts to break down muscles. However, studies have shown that a short-term fast such as intermittent fasting increases metabolism. One study carried out on 11 men found that fasting for three days increased metabolism by 14 percent.
Studies show that intermittent fasting helps to lower blood sugar levels by 3 to 6 percent. It also decreases insulin resistance by 20 to 30 percent. This happens because the body goes for many hours without receiving new food to digest and breakdown into glucose. To get the necessary energy, the body breaks down glycogen. However, as glycogen stores are depleted, the body meets its energy requirements by breaking down body fat.
These changes lower insulin load and significantly reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes. Other studies have also shown that fasting prevents kidney damage that is common in people living with type II diabetes.
Additionally, by combating high insulin levels, intermittent fasting makes it easier for the body to shed some weight. It is also worth noting that excess weight and obesity can lead to type II diabetes. A study also indicates that type II diabetes can result from a high insulin load.
Other health benefits of intermittent fasting
By freeing the body from having to digest food for long periods, intermittent fasting helps the body direct its energies to other functions. The body is thus able to carry out tissue repair and maintenance functions.
For survival purposes, fasting creates a leaner, meaner, healthier, rejuvenated mind and body. Imagine our ancestors without food for several days. Nature says “you better get smarter and faster or you are going to die”. So the subject of autophagy, meaning the body eats its own marginal cells to then create more dynamic and healthier cells. One of the many benefits of intermittent fasting.
By fasting for substantial periods of time every day or some days every week, you give it time to detoxify and get rid of toxins that would otherwise expose you to various chronic diseases and conditions. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting can help prevent many chronic diseases including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and heart disease.
Intermittent fasting improves life expectancy
Intermittent fasting can lower insulin load and dramatically improve health. By increasing metabolism and decreasing blood glucose levels, lowering insulin levels and giving the body more time to detoxify, intermittent fasting helps to improve your overall health. Your cells spend less time metabolising waste and this aids in healthier cells and ultimately a healthier body. You are, therefore, less likely to suffer from the many chronic diseases which are the main causative factors for a poor health. By avoiding these ailments, you are likely to enjoy a longer, healthier life. So, go on and adopt intermittent fasting as part of your lifestyle.