5 Incredible Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

More and more people are turning to intermittent fasting (IF) as a way to shed unwanted pounds and get healthier. But does this diet really work? The evidence says yes. Although more studies need to be conducted in order to get conclusive proof about the benefits of IF, the existing research -- as well as many individuals' own experiences -- point to IF as a very effective way to reach a healthy weight while improving health markers across the board. Here are five of the most compelling reasons you might want to give intermittent fasting a try.


1. Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight

The majority of people who try IF do so because they want to lose weight. That's not a bad reason to adopt this eating pattern, because it works -- if you do it right. When you do intermittent fasting, you only eat during a set window of time during the day. This window can be 8 hours, 6 hours, or even 2 hours long, depending on your individual preference. No matter what kind of eating window you choose, the point is that you won't eat three meals a day or graze on snacks while following an IF eating plan. This tends to naturally lower your caloric intake. The result? You'll lose weight.


But won't you be hungry all the time while fasting? Actually, for most people, the answer is no. The body adjusts to different eating patterns over time. While you might feel a little hungry the first few days on an IF eating plan, your body will soon adapt to your new mealtimes, and your stomach will stop growling before your eating window rolls around. Because of this, most people actually find IF an easier way to lose weight than traditional calorie counting. By compressing your eating into a shorter time frame every day, you'll be able to keep eating relatively normal meals while losing weight, and you won't feel as if you're constantly starving.


2. Intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity

If you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or genetically predisposed to developing type 2 diabetes, intermittent fasting could help you reverse or avoid this disease. How? The answer has to do with insulin and blood glucose.


When you eat a meal or snack, the food is converted into glucose (or sugar) in your blood. Eating also signals to your body that it's time to produce insulin, a hormone that's necessary for turning blood glucose into fuel for your cells and storing it if there's too much for your body to use all at once. In healthy people, insulin works to ensure that glucose levels in the blood never get too high. But in people with insulin resistance, which is a precursor of type 2 diabetes, the insulin does not work correctly to deliver glucose to the cells, and blood glucose can become dangerously high as a result.


Fortunately, there's a solution. Intermittent fasting shows great promise as a way to increase your insulin sensitivity and keep your blood glucose at a safe level. In fact, some people are able to reverse their diagnosis of diabetes or pre-diabetes completely by following an IF eating pattern. Of course, if you have diabetes or are concerned about developing it, your doctor should be your primary source of information about how to prevent or manage the disease.


3. Intermittent fasting may reduce your risk for getting many diseases

Wouldn't it be nice if you could adopt one simple habit that would slash your risk of getting many serious illnesses? It turns out that maybe you can. Studies have found that intermittent fasting is a powerful way to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress -- both of which are major drivers of disease -- throughout the body.


Fasting regularly also stimulates your cells' natural process of autophagy. This is a cleanup process that gets rid of waste and proteins that aren't working correctly. Besides improving your overall cellular health, fasting to stimulate autophagy is thought to reduce your risk of getting some types of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.


4. Intermittent fasting could help you live longer

Researchers have known for a while that eating a reduced-calorie diet can translate into a longer lifespan for animals and humans alike. Now studies are beginning to find that intermittent fasting may have a similar effect -- even if you don't actually reduce the number of calories you eat overall. It's not known exactly why eating fewer calories (or doing IF) helps to increase longevity. Some researchers theorize that it has to do with reducing free radical damage and keeping the body in sync with its natural circadian rhythm.


Limiting your eating to a specific, contained time of day gives your body plenty of time to rest, renew itself, and dispose of toxins and cellular waste during your fasting window. And, of course, maintaining a healthy weight with the help of IF dramatically decreases your chances of getting a life-shortening disease.


5. Intermittent fasting improves your cardiovascular health

You've probably heard all the old advice by now about how to improve your cardiovascular health: exercise, don't smoke, eat less salt. But did you know that intermittent fasting may also be able to help keep your cardiovascular system in great shape? Following an IF eating plan has been shown to reduce all the markers of heart disease, including blood triglyceride levels, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, so this benefit isn't one to overlook.


The Takeaway

If you want to lose weight and improve your health, intermittent fasting may be the way to go. It's been proven to be an effective way to control your weight, reduce your odds of getting many common diseases, and give your body the time and rest it needs to renew itself.


However, intermittent fasting isn't for everybody. If you currently have diabetes, you're pregnant or breastfeeding, or you have ever had an eating disorder, talk to your doctor before you start any new diet plan, especially intermittent fasting.


Megan Cooper