A diet trend that promotes health and longevity
Is intermittent fasting a step towards a healthier lifestyle? It is generally safe and does not result in energy level disturbances or increased disordered eating behaviours. Research suggests that it increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a substance often associated with improved cognitive and mental health outcomes
Obesity is the mother of all ailments. A cornerstone treatment in practice is lifestyle management, which incorporates advice on moderate daily caloric restriction (CR) and physical activity to reduce body weight. With increasing changes in lifestyle and eating habits, it is essential to monitor our score on the weighing balance.
Fasting has been part of human history for thousands of years. It was sometimes used as a medical treatment during ancient times and is still used today in several hospitals. Its rediscovery has contributed to its integration into modern popular diets such as intermittent fasting.
Types of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is a type of popular dietary pattern based on timed periods of fasting, which ensures weight loss. Two overarching types of intermittent fasting are every-other-day complete 24-hour fasting or fasting on 1 or 2 non-consecutive days per week, typically referred to as the 6:1 and 5:2 diets, respectively. Intermittent fasting is becoming a popular alternative; it was the most frequently cited diet pattern in 2020.
Traditionally, we have been tailored to consume 3-4 meals in a day, which perfectly aligned with the lifestyle then, but these days our physical activity has lowered significantly. Our daily steps count has reduced because of access to facilities such as lifts and escalators and extended working hours. We barely get time to devote to our health. Balancing calories is, therefore, a game-changer – either you achieve it through increased physical activity or by cutting down calories on a daily basis. Intermittent fasting is a convenient way to achieve the required calorie balance.
Pros and cons of intermittent fasting
According to Krista A et al 2021 study, intermittent fasting is a safe diet therapy that can produce clinically significant weight loss (>5%) and improve several markers of metabolic health in individuals with obesity, diabetes, inflammation, cancer, hypertension and dyslipidemia. It has been linked to better glucose control in both humans and animals and has distinctive mental health considerations as well.
Some studies also found an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) via intermittent fasting. BNDF is a substance often associated with improved cognitive and mental health outcomes. It also increases via mental health treatments such as antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, and therefore it is considered a common pathway for the many current psychiatric treatments that improve mental health. Theoretically, if intermittent fasting consistently increased BDNF in humans, this would have a significant utility in benefiting mental health.
Intermittent fasting appears to extend lifespan by both partially overlapping common mechanisms such as the target of rapamycin (TOR) pathway and the circadian clock. Hence, following this diet trend might promote health and longevity.
As every coin has two sides, intermittent fasting regimes are not without risk. Potential risks of this diet include hypoglycaemia, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, hypotension, insomnia, nausea, headache or migraines, syncope, dyspepsia, malnutrition, and excessive hunger.
Every human body is different, and so is its reaction to certain stimuli. Therefore, you need to identify what suits you best by consulting a professional.
(Dr. Divya Rawat is Assistant Professor, UPES School of Health Sciences)