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Benefits of fasting: Looking beyond weight loss

Studies show that fasting regularly is an effective tool to reduce body weight. And also to help reduce high blood pressure. As a result, strictly adhering to a fasting diet helps you lose about 2-9% of body weight. Some people lose more weight than this, however, some lose next to none! But, this is not all! Why? Because fasting is more than a simple weight loss strategy. Its health benefits go beyond just weight loss. So, in this article, I will explain the amazing health benefits of fasting to your health!

Also read: Intermittent fasting for weight loss

Initially, I wanted to cover intermittent fasting for weight loss only. However, as I sifted through information, I had a deeper understanding of the fasting process. And I realized that fasting must be a regular part of a healthy lifestyle. Because it offers much more to health than weight loss alone. And its health benefits go beyond your body weight. Therefore fasting can help you detoxify your body. And bring it back to optimum health.

Read about intermittent fasting on the link above.

Regular fasting helps in reducing chronic disease risks. And it also helps in improve your overall health. The fasting process ensures healthier ageing, longevity and improved blood pressure. It also helps ameliorate and improve your heart rate, glucose regulation and loss of abdominal fat. We will discuss all these factors in this article.

What does the evidence say about the extra health benefits of fasting?

What does the evidence say about the health benefits of fasting?

Fasting can do amazing things to your health.

Regular fasting and intermittent fasting is good for glucose homeostasis. Both processes contribute to blood sugar level stabilisation. This is because they help reduce your blood glucose levels. And they also reduce diabetes and insulin resistance risks. Furthermore, fasting minimises your risk of losing insulin sensitivity. Both Insulin resistance and losing insulin sensitivity can lead to type 2 diabetes development.

Research shows that fasting improves fasting blood glucose levels. And it also improves diabetes biomarkers!

Intermittent fasting helps in improving your diabetes parameters. Obesity is a key diabetes parameter. Therefore, it has a key role in the development of diabetes and insulin resistance. But fasting helps you lose weight and body fats. And losing weight and body fat improves your obesity condition. This results in the reduction of type 2 diabetes risks.

Also, regular fasting modifies your body composition. This happens during the weight reduction phase. In this phase, fasting helps reduce your body fat content. And it also improves your overall lean or fat-free mass. This reduces cardiovascular health risks. And improves your heart and cardiovascular health. All of which reduce the risks associated with excess body fat.

Evidence also shows that fasting reduces the risks of osteoarthritis. This is a form of arthritis that occurs in old age. The condition is worse in overweight older people. This is because their bodies are heavier. And their joints and bones cannot fully support their weight. This results in painful and swollen joints. And fasting can help improve the condition! Why? Because it reduces body weight!

Note: Meals on non-fasting days must stay healthy to ensure a healthy nutrient supply to the body?

Now, let’s look at the health benefits of common intermittent fasting methods.

Health benefits of fasting: Benefits of common intermittent fasting methods

Intermittent fasting word on notepad with clock, fork and knife on white plate, weight loss and diet concept. Benefits of fasting.
Intermittent fasting word on notepad with clock, fork and knife on white plate, weight loss and diet concept: IStock Photos

Each fasting method offers several health benefits. However, alternate day fasting is the most researched fasting method. So, it is the most evidence-backed intermittent fasting method. And in my opinion, it is one of the best.

Benefits of alternate-day fasting

It reduces obesity and overweight conditions. This happens through weight and fat reduction.
Alternate day fasting reduces total plasma cholesterol. It also reduces your total body fat. And therefore, it improves heart and cardiovascular health.
Health reduces liver steatosis. Liver steatosis refers to an increased build-up of fat in the liver.
This fasting method reduces risk factors for some cancers.
Alternate day fasting can help reduce inflammation in your body. This happens by reducing inflammatory risk factors.
Finally, alternate-day fasting gives moderate weight loss results.

Benefits of intermittent energy restriction

This method is the basis of the popular 5:2 diet. In this fasting method, you eat normally for 5 days and restrict energy intake on 2 separate days. So, how does intermittent energy restriction benefit health?

  • The fasting method reduces the size of adipocytes. Adipocytes are fat storage cells in the body. And if they are smaller, then less fat is stored in your body.
  • It also reduces visceral ( belly) fat through fat burning.
  • Intermittent energy restriction also helps you control blood and post-meal glucose levels.
  • Intermittent energy restriction also reduces the fat content of your blood. Which means it reduces blood LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • And it also reduces cancer-associated risk factors. This may be linked to its ability to reduce weight. Being obese/overweight is linked to several cancers.
  • It also improves the level of satiety after meals. Which reduces overeating.

Intermittent energy restriction produces some of the best weight loss results. It can give you a weight reduction of up to 9.6% of body weight or more!

However, there are a few problems with this method. And all problems are related to lack of energy on fasting days. These problems include:

  • Feeling cold and irritable.
  • Hunger
  • Low energy in the body
  • Can cause you to perform some tasks poorly due to the low energy.

Benefits of time-restricted feeding

Time-restricted feeding increases the length of the daily fasting periods. And it restricts feeding periods to a certain period. This means that there is no eating outside this feeding period.

Time-restricted feeding reduces body weight and fat content. It also lowers total blood triglycerides (fats). Meaning it is good for heart health.
Reduces fasting, post-meal and blood sugar levels.

The problem is that this method is not very effective in my opinion. Those who use it report hunger pangs in the morning. This increased hunger will only drive you to binge eating during non-fasting periods. As a result, it can affect the overall results.

But, these are not the only benefits of fasting on health.

Health benefits of fasting: going beyond weight loss

1. Benefits of fasting on hypertension (high blood pressure) and gut health

Regular fasting is beneficial to blood pressure, gut and heart health. It also improves your gut health and immunity. 

Fasting also improves your gut health. It enhances the proliferation and recovery of beneficial gut bacteria. The beneficial gut bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids have beneficial effects on health.

A fasting diet also helps modify gut microbial flora positively. It promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria. However, it also inhibits the growth of harmful gut bacteria. Regular fasting allows the recovery of healthy gut bacteria populations. Some dietary behaviours cause damage to beneficial gut bacteria. And fasting allows the recovery of beneficial bacteria populations.

Healthy and happy gut microorganisms produce healthy metabolites. These metabolites are good for your health. Some of the metabolites contribute to a healthy vascular system. And this can benefit hypertension conditions. And reduce your need for antihypertensive medication. Therefore, fasting can help improve your high blood pressure conditions.

Note: This is not a replacement for medication.

Also, read: 9. Amazing heart healthy foods you should eat

Also, regular fasting stimulates the removal of cells responsible for high blood pressure responses. And in turn, it helps replace them with cells that reduce hypertensive responses.

2. Fasting helps improve energy production, tissue repair and healing

Intermittent fasting activates adaptive pathways in the body. These pathways enhance the body’s energy production mechanisms. And they also enhance the repair of damaged DNA as well as your immunity. These pathways are responsible for several fasting associated health benefits.

Regular fasting promotes stem cell-based regeneration and repair of tissues. Stem cells are the backbone of healing and tissue repair in your body.  So, they are important in repairing and healing damaged tissues. Stem cell stimulation activates mechanisms that allow the body to self-heal.

Activating these pathways also reduce the risks of inflammation. And the risks of diseases associated with inflammation. Reduction of inflammation enhances your defence against oxidative and metabolic stress.

Intermittent fasting increases the size and number of mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy production power stations in the body. And these power stations weaken and reduce in number as you age. And this results, in limited metabolic energy in old age. As a result, work performance and vitality are reduced in old age. So, fasting helps improve your energy production efficiency.

3. Benefits of fasting in healthy ageing and brain health

Clock plate of keto foods with 70% fat, 20%  protein and 10 % carbs. Ketones are released durin fasting when the body burns fat.
Clock plate of keto foods with 70% fat, 20% protein and 10 % carbs: IStock Photos

Regular fasting can help you age healthily. How?

When you fast, your body undergoes a metabolic shift. This shift causes a metabolic switch from glucose to fats as a metabolic fuel. Using fats as a metabolic fuel generates ketone bodies.

Note: Ketone bodies are the basis of the keto diet.

So, this means fasting increases the concentration of ketone bodies in the body. And these ketone bodies excellent energy sources. Ketone bodies are an energy source for the brain during fasting/starvation. But the ketone bodies also regulate the process that influences healthy ageing.

Ketone bodies enhance brain health. They also reduce the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

Also, other studies show that regular fasting improves your working memory.

4. Removal of damaged cells and stress resistance.

Fasting gives the body a metabolic break. This enables the body to resist oxidative stress and metabolic damage. The process also allows toxic waste elimination from the body. Also, it enables the removal and repair of damaged cells in the body. These mechanisms are absent or minimal in people who eat all the time! The metabolic break helps the body to repair damaged metabolic systems.

5. Reduces risks of chronic diseases

Regular fasting reduces weight and waist circumference. As a result, it reduces the risks associated with obesity and being overweight. Therefore, fasting reduces the adverse effects of obesity. It also reduces the risks of diabetes and neuroinflammation on spatial learning and memory.

Fasting improves verbal memory and executive functions as well as cognition. Additionally, it reduces the risks of cardiovascular and heart-related diseases.

So, is fasting more than weight loss?

Yes! The health benefits of fasting go beyond weight loss alone. Fasting allows your body, to repair and heal itself. It also helps detoxify and give harmful substances time to clean out!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on fasting

How long should I fast for?

You should decide a fasting regimen that works for you and adhere to it. It shouldn’t be too short nor too long. Your fasting period should be at least 8 hours long but not more than 24 hours.

Is fasting good for the body?

Yes! Fasting is good for the body. It burns fats and releases ketones to produce energy. This causes weight and fat loss. It is also beneficial against chronic diseases. Fasting improves gut and mental health. And also, blood pressure and glucose homeostasis.

What is bad about fasting?

Fasting for too long is bad. Because your body needs nutrients for survival. And these nutrients are found in food. So, long fasts can result nutrient deficiencies and shortages. And this causes fatigue, dizziness, dehydration, constipation and feeling cold.

How do you fast properly?

To fast properly you must eat healthfully on non fasting days. Also, keep your fasts short and not too long. Eat small amounts of healthy food on fasting days. And don’t break your fast with a feast.

Does sleeping count as fasting?

No! Sleeping alone does not count as fasting. However, you can fast during sleep hours. Fasting in the evening extends the overnight fasting period. And fasting during sleep periods is easier and healthier.

Which is better to fast in the morning or the evening?

Research shows that fasting in the evening has more benefits. People who eat in the morning and afternoon have better weight loss. They also have better glycemic control and healthier blood lipid profiles than those who eat late in the day.

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