The Pros and Cons of Intermittent Fasting

You may have heard about intermittent fasting and wondered what it is and if it could help you lose weight. In general, intermittent fasting is a schedule made up of “eating” and “fasting” blocks. One of the more common intermittent fasting programs is the 16/8 version in which you go without food for 16 hours of every day.

The most important advantage of intermittent fasting is that it burns fat once all of the available glucose is used up, making your metabolism more efficient. Although intermittent fasting can help people by lowering weight and stabilizing blood sugar, it does carry some risks that make it inappropriate for people with certain health conditions.

Various Kinds of Intermittent Fasting

Although all intermittent fasting methods use a schedule of eating periods broken up by periods of fasting, the exact ratio depends on the specific program.

  • The 16/8 program—this intermittent fasting technique allows you to eat only during an 8-hour period within a single day.  This is a common introductory form of intermittent fasting because half of the fasting is taken up by sleeping.
  • The 5/2 program—this type of intermittent fasting involves eating normally for 5 days of the week, but limiting calories on 2 days. The amount of calories on fasting days may be as low as 500 or 600 calories. Fasting days should not be consecutive.
  • Eat-stop-eat program—this is similar to the 5/2 program, but you eliminate all caloric intake for one or two 24-hour periods every week. Each 24-hour fasting period should be over two days, so that you get some calories every day. Do not fast on consecutive days.

Why You May Want to Consider Intermittent Fasting

If you are unsure if intermittent fasting is for you, then consider the following potential benefits.

  • Weight loss—the key appeal of intermittent fasting is that it helps you lose weight. It accomplishes this by forcing you to burn through your glucose and then utilizing your long-term energy stored in your fat. This ketogenesis has been shown to body weight by 8 percent in just 8 weeks of intermittent fasting.
  • Improve insulin sensitivity—insulin is a very important hormone that governs blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance is one of the hallmarks of pre-diabetes, but studies show that intermittent fasting can lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
  • Strengthen heart health-– intermittent fasting has been linked to healthier hearts because it lowers body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Fasting also promotes the production of adiponectin a hormone that benefits your heart.
  • Enhanced brain function—new studies suggest that intermittent fasting can boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor which plays a vital role in growing new neurons, stabilizing mood and maintaining cognitive function. There are also indications that the anti-inflammatory benefits of intermittent fasting may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological impairments.
  • Longer life—research suggests that intermittent fasting may increase life expectancy by up to 83 percent—at least, in rats. Health experts point to the increased autophagy in which the body removes damaged or aged cells as the mechanism for this extended life. An additional benefit is that you should appear and feel younger as only newer tissue is retained.

Who Should Avoid Intermittent Fasting?

Although intermittent fasting may sound like an exciting new way to lose weight and become healthier, there are some drawbacks that means it isn’t for everyone.

  • Fasting issues—most people will have at least some difficulty adjusting to a schedule in which large periods of time they will be hungry. For some people, there may be uncomfortable side effects to fasting like headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, constipation, dehydration, irritability, sleep difficulties, malnutrition, or diarrhea.
  • Gaining weight—it is still possible to gain weight with intermittent fasting if you load up on calories prior to or immediately after a fasting block. If you indulge in unhealthy foods like those full of sugar, fat, or salt, you may actually do more harm to your health by fasting. In addition to adhering to a strict eating schedule, you need to maintain healthy eating habits to derive optimal results.
  • Low blood sugar—if you have diabetes, then you should consult with your doctor before you start intermittent fasting. Diabetics need to maintain their blood sugar levels and going long periods without eating can make that difficult.
  • Low blood pressure—studies show that intermittent fasting may lead to low blood pressure, so people who are already struggling with hypotension should ask their doctor if fasting is right for them first.
  • Medication complications—many medications require you to take them after eating. Drugs for diabetes, high blood pressure and thyroid issues should be taken with meals, so intermittent fasting may not be possible for people on certain drug regimens.
  • Underweight—people who are already consuming less calories than required should not engage in an intermittent fasting program that could further destabilize their health.
  • Eating disorders—because intermittent fasting can lead to binging before or after a fasting block, people who have struggled with eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia should not engage in intermittent fasting.
  • Pregnant women—women who are trying to conceive a child, are pregnant or have recently had a child should not try intermittent fasting. Some research indicates that fasting can diminish fertility. Moreover, it is important to provide an abundance of calories and nutrients for a developing fetus as well as while breastfeeding.

Final Considerations

Before you decide to initiate an intermittent fasting program, you should discuss it with your doctor. Your doctor should be aware of your current health situation and can alert you about potential issues that could arise from intermittent fasting.

If your doctor allows you to proceed, make sure to start your fasting slowly. Instead of beginning with a 16-hour fasting window, you may just want to go 12 hours. If, however, this is too difficult, then you might just try skipping a meal when you can. Remember, the ultimate goal is to be healthier, not to torment yourself with starvation.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.