By: Kelly Gilthorpe Burkenstock, M.D.
Religions have long maintained that fasting is good for the soul, but its health benefits were not widely recognized until doctors began using various fasting diets to treat many issues such as diabetes, obesity, and epilepsy. Interestingly, fasting as a treatment for epilepsy dates back to the Roman Era where people with epilepsy were caged and starved to rid them of their demons.
Whether an individual practices fasting for spiritual, health, or medical reasons, most people will fast at some point in life.
Intermittent fasting is a regimen that cycles between periods of fasting, with either no food or significant calorie reduction, followed by periods of unrestricted eating. It changes the body’s composition through loss of fat and weight, while also improving many health parameters associated with disease such as: blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation, obesity, brain health, heart health, aging, andropause and menopause, and possibly cancer. Intermittent fasting drains the body of one’s glucose (sugar) reserves – the main energy source from the foods we eat. Without this glucose reserve, an individual’s body switches to burning fat as fuel – known as ketosis. There are many different versions of intermittent fasting; some notable examples include:
5:2 Fast, consisting of eating normally for 5 days every week and fasting for 2 days. On the 2 fasting days the client restricts their calorie intake to 500-600 calories per day. The other 5 days the client eats normally and unrestricted.
16:8 Fast, clients eat normally and unrestricted for 8 hours and fast for the remaining 16 hours- drinking only water and calorie free drinks.
18:6 Fast, clients eat normally and unrestricted for 6 hours and fast for the remaining 18 hours – drinking only water and calorie-free drinks.
2:5 Juice Cleanse Fast, a quality juice cleanse is used for 48-72 hours, (2 or 3 days), and then clients eats nutritious meals after the cleanse is complete. A low sugar, low salt, all natural juice cleanse, enriched with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and PREBIOTICS is best. Clients eat normally (but nutritiously) for 4 or 5 days, then fast with a quality juice cleanse for 2 to 3 days.
When an individual switches to an intermittent fasting diet plan, they upgrade their body’s performance in a number of ways. Their body initiates a number of important hormonal changes which make fat more accessible to burn. There are diverse and powerful benefits thought to occur due to intermittent fasting such as: weight loss, disease prevention, improved memory, brain restoration, heart health, mood improvement, decrease in insulin resistance, increase in lifespan (Anti-Aging), enhancement in stress tolerance, and an upgrade to the immune system. Several trials have shown significant weight loss, without an overall increase in appetite. Though these benefits are proven in animal trials, we await final confirmation from ongoing human trials.
Heart Health and Inflammation with Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting improves the way an individual’s body metabolizes cholesterol, fat, and sugar resulting in better overall heart health. By improving the way the body metabolizes sugar, Intermittent Fasting reduces the risk of gaining weight and developing diabetes, which are both risk factors for future heart disease. Intermittent Fasting has been shown to increase good HDL cholesterol, (H = Happy , so we want the HDL cholesterol component to be High), while decreasing bad LDL cholesterol levels.
Intermittent Fasting also enhances heart health by lowering both blood pressure and chronic inflammation.
While inflammation is a good and normal response to injury or trauma, chronic inflammation can lead to lifelong disease, and a deterioration of the tiny coronary heart arteries. Some scientific research has found relationships between chronic inflammation and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. As noted in Nutrition Research, people following Ramadan fasting for religious or cultural obligations have decreased inflammation markers during their Ramadan fasting. This concurs with other scientific research that found longer duration nighttime fasting was associated with decreased inflammation and oxidative stress. Lower levels of both chronic inflammation and oxidative stress may prove to fight off many diseases and offer the body Anti Aging properties.
As opposed to Intermittent Fasting, severe long term fasting results in a reduction in size in most organs, except the brain. Our bodies go to great lengths to preserve the most important organ, the brain. Severe long-term fasting is harmful and not recommended.
Foolproof? Unfortunately not. The main reason for success with intermittent fasting is that there is less caloric intake overall, so if an individual binges on massive amounts of food, eats before bed, or indulges in high fat, junk carbs, and/or processed foods, or consistently eats against their personal DNA macronutrient profile, they may not lose any weight at all. They may also not experience many of the other health benefits of Intermittent Fasting.
Some animal studies have shown that food is processed differently at different times of the day. This could be due to fluctuations in body temperature, biochemical reactions, hormone levels, physical activity, and/or absorption and digestion of food.
In addition, a person’s unique DNA macronutrient profile determines what percent of each macronutrient (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) they are personally built to metabolize most efficiently due to their genetic makeup. This explains why an individual may begin a certain diet plan with a friend (Atkins, Keto-Diet, South Beach Diet, etc.), but the weight lost by each individual may vary significantly.
In essence, I recommend that everyone incorporate a juice cleanse detox into their life with a quality grade juice cleanse product plus raw greens, or one salad per day for several days. This acts as a method of intermittent fasting to slow aging and prolong lifespan as an easier alternative to water fasting. Water fasting has a rapidly decreasing effect at removing toxins, as nutrients necessary for the removal also decrease as the water fast progresses. Electrolyte imbalances can also appear.
Juice cleanse fasting with a quality product enables clients to continue to work, and is safer than water fasting. Juice cleanse fasting prevents dehydration, loss of electrolytes, and fainting.
A few days of juice cleansing can be a great way to reset an individual’s taste buds, and jumpstart a new, healthful diet. However, there is no health benefit of trying to use a juice cleanse as a temporary detox. This will inevitably lead the individual to return to their unhealthy diet practices. This intermittent fasting magic only works if you stick with a nutritious diet long-term; such as one that is congruent with your DNA macronutrients, and also incorporates some juice cleansing and occasional caloric restriction.
As always, please consult a physician before starting any diet plan if you have any medical conditions, especially if you are a diabetic, pregnant, or nursing.
Stay tuned to part 4 – Intermittent Fasting and Leaky Gut
– Dr. Burkenstock’s articles can also be found on http://www.healthfitnessmag.com.
– Dr. Kelly Gilthorpe Burkenstock is an internal medicine physician, and has studied abroad with several of the world’s foremost international luminaries. She has locations in Metairie and Mandeville. For more information, please call 985-869-8400 or 504-502-7600.
Documentary Eat Fast and Live Longer
Dr. Krista Varady, University of Illinois
Dr. Sandrine Thuret, Neuroscientist
Dr. Mark Mattson, National Institute on Aging
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders.