What Is Intermittent Fasting? (Plus, Top 3 Benefits & Drawbacks)

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Is it good for you?  

Or is it bad for you?

This is a huge trend and topic in the health space so, as always, we are bringing you all the facts to help you make an educated decision on if it is right for you right now or not. 

In this episode, we’ll discuss: 

  • Most common fasting practices (we dive deep into the different methods: 16:8, 20:4, 24:0)
  • How fasting releases toxins & reduces inflammation
  • How fasting can support insulin sensitivity
  • The affect intermittent fasting (IF) has on your adrenals and thyroid 
  • And lastly, the 3 potential drawbacks of IF

While it may be a historical health practice, the term intermittent fasting has really taken off in the past five or so years. 

Intermittent fasting (IF) has been trending recently: promising goals of weight loss, metabolism-boosting, brain, and cognitive function and potentially reducing the risk of chronic disease. 

What Is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

Simply put, it is an umbrella term for eating patterns. What many do not realize is that IF has been practiced for centuries and our natural rhythm of eating three meals a day and fasting through the night, is referred to as a type of intermittent fasting. 

Starting the day with breakfast is literally to “break” the “fast.” 

Within the many different methods of fasting, the most common is fasting for a religious occasion where food and/or drink is omitted for a period of 12 to 24 hours or in some cases, even longer. 

Traditionally, other fasting practices are broken into these hourly timeframes:  16:8, 20:4 and 24:0.

16:8 Method Of Intermittent Fasting (Or The 8:16 Method) 

The most common method of fasting is referred to as the 16:8 method and is probably what the majority of us naturally follow. 

If your last meal is dinner and your first meal of the day is between 7 and 9 am, then you are naturally on a 16:8 plan. 

This is important for our bodies, as abstaining from food supports the natural cleansing method, helps regulate our hormones, digestion and our sleep-wake cycle. 

In research, this type of fasting has been shown to support fasting blood sugar levels, blood pressure levels, and curb cravings and appetite. 

Simply put, food is consumed within sixteen hours and for the other 8 hours, no food is eaten. For some, this sequence can be flip-flopped and food can be consumed within an 8-hour window and followed by a 16-hour fast, which is very common amongst people who try intermittent fasting for the first time. They might eat all of their food from 8 am – 4 pm or, as many do, wait to start eating until 11 am and finish all of their food by 7 pm. 

20:4 Method Of Intermittent Fasting

A 20-hour fast followed by a small feeding window of just 4 hours is popular amongst those with night-shift schedules or have specific fitness goals. Typically, the 4-hour feeding window is either first thing in the morning or the middle of the day. 

As you can imagine, trying to fit your daily calories into a 4-hour window can be challenging.

It can also be difficult on the digestive system, as well as the gallbladder, if the meals are high in fat.

24:0 Of Intermittent Fasting

Lastly, whole-day fasting is something a lot of nutritionists and detox programs recommend. 

Many different religious practices use this type of fasting as well. 

Within our programs, we use a variation of this type of fast and include bone broth. 

The method behind this is to provide the body with collagen and protein to continue to support the stress hormones, especially the adrenals and thyroid. 

Water fasting is also a form of 24:0 fasting. Clinical research is limited in this form of fasting, though many experience great benefits. This type of fasting done for a day or longer will promote autophagy in the body, which is the body's way of cleaning out damaged cells to regenerate healthy new cells. 

This type of fasting has shown promising results for those who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. However, this is highly individual and should be talked-over with a qualified practitioner and monitored daily. 

While long-term fasting can be supportive for digestive health—we use it in our Gut Thrive program—it is very important for those with adrenal or thyroid problems or those experiencing high amounts of stress to not fast for long periods. 

This can be counterintuitive as it will actually cause our bodies to start to utilize muscle for fuel and further delete cellular stores of necessary minerals. 

With that, let’s dive into whether or not this is right for you right now with the top benefits of fasting and the drawbacks.

Top Three Benefits Of Fasting

1: Fasting Releases Toxins

We all naturally have toxins in our bodies; they are produced in our body as well as absorbed through our skin and through the foods we consume. Toxins are fat-soluble, meaning they are stored in your fat cells. Fasting taps into our fat stores for energy, which means we are using fat as fuel as opposed to sugar or glucose. This is referred to as lipolysis; when this happens, fat-soluble toxins are released from the fat cells and your body is shifted into releasing fatty acids called ketones. This is where the ketogenic diet often comes in; this type of diet relies on ketones long term. As we have discussed in previous blogs, this type of diet can work for some while be troublesome for others. 

2: Increases Insulin Sensitivity

Fasting has been clinically shown to increase insulin sensitivity. If we are continuously refueling our cells, insulin levels can remain high as can glucose levels. For those with insulin resistance or diabetes, fasting can be supportive in reducing glucose levels. We get in trouble when the cells in our muscles, body fat, and liver start resisting or ignoring the signals that insulin sends out which is to grab glucose out of the bloodstream and put it into our cells to be used as fuel. When this happens, we have consistent brain fog, weight gain, and low energy. For some, just fasting overnight with a 16:8 practice can be supportive enough to increase insulin sensitivity and therefore reduce fasting glucose levels. 

3: Reduces Inflammation

Much like its benefits on releasing toxins, fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation within the body. Inflammation can trigger or increase the prevalence of disease, influence memory, and mood disorders, as well as create chaos for our immune system and metabolism. Much like a high switch, fasting turns on a genetic switch that helps halt inflammation as well as strengthening the gut barrier (mucosal lining), thus protecting the digestive system from bad bacteria. This is cutting edge for those with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other nervous system diseases, and we look forward to some more human studies to come out about this and possibly change the course of the disease.

Top Three Dangers of Fasting

While fasting has some undeniable benefits, like reducing hunger, increasing metabolism and weight loss, as well as normalizing blood sugar and insulin numbers, prolonged fasting or fasting too often can lead to anemia, lowered immune response and function, dizziness, low blood sugar, and muscle wasting. We really must decide if fasting is right for our own biochemistry before jumping on the IF wagon and trying it long term. Making sure we are supporting our detoxification pathways and giving our liver some love is key when deciding whether or not to try IF. Secondly, making sure your adrenals and thyroid are strong enough is important, as intermittent fasting can put added stress on both of these delicate organs. 

1: Detoxification Pathways 

We have two phases to detoxification, phase 1 and phase 2. A congested liver may be due to poor detoxification or impaired Phase I or Phase II liver detoxification. 

Phase I liver detoxification addresses toxic chemicals and metals by converting them into less harmful chemicals. Phase 2 converts fat-soluble toxic chemicals into water-soluble chemicals so they can then be passed through and out of the body via our bodily fluids (bile and urine). Supporting both of these phases is essential and below are several ways to do that. 

Nutrients to include which are required to stimulate Phase 1

B Vitamins (especially vitamin B12, Niacin, B6), Glutathione, Antioxidants, and vitamins C and E. 

Foods to include which activate Phase II: Amino acids via top-quality animal protein and/or supplements, sulfur-containing amino acids such as eggs, sulfur-containing phytonutrients such as shallots, onions, and garlic, foods high in NAC (n-acetylcysteine) like bananas, salmon and tuna.

2: Adrenal Health:

With today's modern world, which is full of stress and demands, we must be sure that we are taking time for ourselves and supporting our hormones. For some, fasting can be too hard on their adrenals and often leave them feeling even worse than before. This is typically due to the added stress that fasting can put on our adrenals and stress hormones, which then triggers the release of cortisol. This can lead to increased anxiety and heart racing for some, while for others their blood sugar drops too low and stress hormones rise even further in response. This can be an endless cycle for some and often coupled with weight gain, anxiety, depression, and great fatigue. If we fast too long between meals or restrict food for some time, this can drive our body into the fight-flight-or-freeze mode. For those with adrenal dysfunction, fasting is something that should only be added after the root cause is addressed and the nervous system is healed. 

3: Thyroid Health:

We know through clinical research that the thyroid affects every cell in our body; this is because every cell in our body needs thyroid hormone in order to produce active energy. If we do not have energy, simply put – our mitochondria cannot survive. The thyroid hormone is the engine behind every process in the body; if we restrict food or reduce the amounts we are consuming, we are directly blocking our thyroid from working properly. As a result, we force it to slow down. When this happens, we typically shuttle the active thyroid hormone into storage (reverse T3). Speaking of the stress hormone cortisol once again, this will also block T4 to T3 conversion, so while we may have thyroid hormone present, we lack the ability to convert it into the active form and health issues ensue even though your thyroid lab work is normal. 

Are You Going To Give Intermittent Fasting A Try?

For some, fasting can provide numerous benefits and support metabolic health, yet for others it can be too hard on their system leading to even more unwanted symptoms.

Whether or not you should attempt different types of fasting depends on the state of your liver, adrenals, thyroid and immune health. 

Leave a comment and let us know your experience with fasting and if this post was helpful for you.

The Benefits and Drawbacks Of Intermittent Fasting

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