What Are the Health Benefits of Fasting?

Reviewed on 6/4/2021

Fasting is defined as a period of partial or total restriction from all foods or selected foods. The health benefits of fasting include a decreased resting heart rate, decreased blood pressure, improved pumping action of the heart, increased insulin sensitivity and reduced LDL cholesterol, fasting insulin and inflammation.
Fasting is defined as a period of partial or total restriction from all foods or selected foods. The health benefits of fasting include a decreased resting heart rate, decreased blood pressure, improved pumping action of the heart, increased insulin sensitivity and reduced LDL cholesterol, fasting insulin and inflammation.

Fasting is defined as a period of partial or total restriction from all foods or selected foods. Fasting may be done as a part of dieting for weight loss or religious reasons. Given that fasting is a potential remedy for longevity, it has been the subject of many studies. The American Heart Association has stated that regular fasting is associated with lower rates of heart failure and improved metabolism. Thus, fasting could be the key to a long, healthy life. Many studies show that those who fast routinely have an almost 45 percent lower mortality rate compared to those who don’t fast during the follow-up period.

Most studies on fasting have been conducted on individuals who fast for religious reasons. This includes long fasts, such as the Islamic Ramadan, Lent and Daniel fast. It has been suggested that fasting, if done right, can have the following health benefits:

  • Decreased resting heart rate (HR)
  • Decreased blood pressure (BP)
  • Improvements in pumping action of the heart
  • Lowered levels of LDL or bad cholesterol
  • Reduced level of fasting insulin
  • Increased insulin sensitivity
  • Fasting for a short time can produce ketosis, which accentuates weight loss
  • Reduced production of inflammatory substances (such as HOMA-IR and C-reactive protein) in the body
  • Ketosis during fasting triggers several responses, including decreased inflammation, improved blood sugar regulation and better response to physical stress

Fasting can slow down aging, prevent the development of diabetes, thyroid disorders, hypertension and heart disease and increase the chances of a long and healthy life. It also promotes weight loss. A healthy body weight automatically translates to healthier joints and a great body image.

What are the various types of fasting?

When pursuing the beneficial effects of fasting, intermittent fasting has maximum benefits.

Table. The way to do intermittent fasting

 Twice a week method (5:2)           
  • Cap daily calories at 500 twice a week.
  • Other two days, eat a healthy diet (2000 calories)
   
 Alternate day fasting  
  • This variation involves fasting every other day.
  • Limit calorie intake on fasting days to 500 or about 25 percent of the usual intake.
  • Other two days, eat a healthy diet (2000 calories)
 Time-restricted eating  
  • Fast for 16 hours a day and eat for only eight hours of the day.
  • One may eat between 11.00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

       OR

  • Fast for 14 hours a day and eat for only 10 hours of the day.
  • One may eat between 10.00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
 The 24-hour fast: eat,  stop, eat method 
  • This method is not recommended. Here you fast only once a week, but you fast for a full 24 hours. This method may cause extreme fatigue, dehydration, headaches, irritability and low energy.

What are the risks associated with fasting?

Though many studies have proven the benefits of fasting in general, fasting as a method of weight loss needs more evidence. The most important thing to note is that fasting is not for everybody.

  • If people have a history of eating disorders, fasting may not be a good idea. Intermittent fasting has been known to trigger binge eating behavior, which can cause complications of its own.
  • Individuals with diabetes who take medications and insulin may have severely low blood sugar levels, which may be life-threatening.
  • Some individuals resort to “dry fasting,” which means they do not drink water nor do they eat solids for the periods of fasting. This trend is dangerous because it can trigger severe dehydration, exhaustion, electrolyte imbalance, heatstroke and headaches. It is also damaging for the kidneys.
  • Fasting is a potential migraine trigger.
  • Severe caloric restriction can often push a person into dangerously low body weight.
  • Ketogenesis brought on by fasting may have undesirable effects because the body is getting used to burning fats instead of glucose. This is called “keto flu.”
  • Unsupervised fasting may trigger nutritional deficiencies. This may adversely impact all the body functions in the long run.

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References
The impact of religious fasting on human health. https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/1475-2891-9-57.pdf

Mayo Clinic Q and A: Long-term Benefits and Risks of Intermittent Fasting Aren’t Yet Known. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-q-and-a-long-term-benefits-and-risks-of-intermittent-fasting-arent-yet-known/

Regular Fasting Could Lead to Longer, Healthier Life. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/11/25/regular-fasting-could-lead-to-longer-healthier-life

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