Sometimes we will come across people who have been doing IF for a while, yet they experience very slow weight loss or even no weight loss at all. They may think that IF “isn’t working.” While it’s true that they may not yet be seeing the weight loss they were hoping for, is IF “working”? And, if so, what is happening?
Let’s take a look at some of the latest research into what may be happening in our bodies when we fast. After reading about these new and exciting studies, you will realize that weight loss is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fasting! And, the benefits that we can’t see on the outside are actually the most important for our health and longevity.
For each of these titles, click on the title itself to go directly to the article that reports the research. I have given you a brief summary of each, but to learn more, you can (and should) go straight to the source. I am not a research scientist, nor do I play one on TV.
Are there any proven benefits to fasting?
Johns Hopkins, Spring/Summer 2016
Dr. Mark Mattson's research shows that fasting improves neural connections in the hippocampus and also protects our brains against the accumulation of amyloid plaques. Benefits of fasting include fewer signs of depression, improved memory, and an increased ability for our brains to ward off neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
In pursuit of healthy aging: Intermittent fasting may be center of increasing lifespan
Harvard, October 2017
As we get older, the mitochondria of our cells lose the ability "to process energy over time, which leads to aging and age-related disease." Researchers from Harvard are beginning to understand how intermittent fasting promotes healthy aging by enhancing the plasticity of our mitochondrial networks. This should lead to a reduced likelihood of developing age-related diseases, which would increase lifespan.
Intermittent fasting leads to significant weight loss, slows aging
University of Florida, April 2018
Researchers at the University of Florida performed a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on fasting. In their paper, they examine both time-restricted eating (the eating window approach) and various alternate daily fasting strategies (the up/down day approach). In their analysis, they describe how fasting allows our bodies to shift from burning glucose for energy to obtaining energy from fatty acids and their byproducts, ketones. When the body flips this metabolic switch, we are able to access fat stores while preserving lean muscle mass. Also, fasting "may optimize physiological functioning, enhance performance, and slow the aging and disease processes."
Fasting boosts stem cells' regenerative capacity
MIT, May 2018
As we age, our intestinal stem cells lose their regenerative abilities, and it takes longer for the intestines to recover from infection or injury. Biologists at MIT found that a 24-hour fast can reverse age-related loss of intestinal stem cell function. In this study, they found evidence that "fasting induces a metabolic switch in the intestinal stem cells, from utilizing carbohydrates to burning fat." As a result of the metabolic changes, they saw enhanced function and cellular regeneration.
Longer daily fasting times improve health and longevity in mice
National Institute on Aging, September 2018
Scientists found that "health and longevity improved with increased fasting time, regardless of what the mice ate or how many calories they consumed." This study was performed on mice, and the mice who ate one meal a day, which was the longest fasting period examined, "seemed to have a longer lifespan and better outcomes for common age-related liver disease and metabolic disorders." Yes, these were mice, but the researchers are hoping to expand the research to other animals and then eventually to humans.
Researchers identify molecule with anti-aging effects on vascular system
Georgia State University, September 2018
We know that as we age, we become more susceptible to diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Vascular aging plays a significant role in this process, as the vessels become sensitive and more subject to damage over time. Researchers at Georgia State University found that the body produces a molecule during fasting called beta-hydroxybutyrate (involved in ketogenesis) that promotes cell division and prevents cellular aging within the blood vessels and lymphatic vessels of our vascular system. They believe this may help us keep our blood vessels young.
Fasting boosts metabolism and fights aging
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, January 2019
This study is exciting, because it wasn't done on rats or mice...but was actually conducted with humans. In this study, four volunteers participated in a 58 hour fast, and researchers took blood samples at specific intervals: 10, 34, and 58 hours into the fast. (Yes, this is a small sample size. Yes, it is still exciting.) Over time, and in all four subjects, scientists were able to identify "44 metabolites that increased during fasting, some of which increased 60-fold." Overall, they found a boost in metabolic activity, increased mitochondrial activation, and higher levels of antioxidants, which they expect would reverse some of the effects of aging. Next steps will include repeating this study with a larger sample.
Exercise, fasting help cells shed defective proteins
Harvard, February 2019
As we age, our cells lose the ability to dispose of "junk proteins," and this can lead to the accumulation of "misfolded proteins, which clog up the cell, interfere with its functions, and, over time," lead to "the development of diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases such as amytrophic lateral sclerosis and Alzheimer's." Researchers at Harvard found that both exercise and fasting (even for brief periods) enhanced the cells' ability to dispose of these junky proteins that cause diseases.
So, if you are one of the people who started IF for the weight loss (Gin raises hand), you should now understand that fasting is so much more than a way to drop pounds and sizes. I genuinely believe that almost all adults could benefit from some sort of intermittent fasting regimen. Remember: at the core, fasting truly is the health plan with a side effect of weight loss. Even when we can’t yet see the results outwardly, the latest research on fasting, health, and longevity should thrill us, as we begin to understand that amazing things are likely going on within our bodies. Not everyone who does intermittent fasting will be a size 2 or fit back into their jeans from high school, but everyone can benefit from the time our bodies spend in the fasted state.
And, here’s something else to think about. Once you truly embrace IF as your healthy forever-lifestyle, and disconnect from the thought that it’s a temporary diet to help you lose a certain number of pounds, you can exhale and relax into it. Once you do, you realize you have the rest of your life to tweak your IF regimen to find approaches that will allow you to eventually release the excess weight you may be holding onto. And, as you do, never lose sight of the fact that you’re reaping all of the health benefits along the way.
Fast on, friends!
Gin Stephens lives in Augusta, Georgia, where she has been following an intermittent fasting lifestyle since 2014. In addition to writing the #1 Amazon best-seller Delay, Don't Deny and the follow-up book Feast Without Fear, Gin is host of the Intermittent Fasting Stories podcast and co-host of The Intermittent Fasting Podcast, along with fellow intermittent faster and author, Melanie Avalon. Check out www.intermittentfastingstories.com and www.ifpodcast.com or search for the podcasts through your favorite podcast app.