A growing amount of research is showing the connection between good nutrition and the development of degenerative diseases.
In an era where diet programs seemingly shift with the wind, researchers can hardly provide studies to support or reject each passing trend focused on nutrition and weight loss. So when intermittent fasting entered the spotlight, it’s only natural that some wondered if it was just another fad.
Fasting, however, is nothing new. It’s a centuries old practice that has been proven to be beneficial in a number of ways to support overall health and wellness. Fasting related to religious practices has been studied observationally, with those populations exhibiting healthier weights and lower numbers of diabetes cases. In recent years, the practice of intermittent fasting has come back in vogue and has remained there courtesy of a spate of new research that has shown that this approach can have significant benefits, particularly the elderly as it can have significant impacts on conditions which elderly people are commonly affected by.
How Does It Work
In general, there are two approaches to intermittent fasting. The first is alternate day fasting, in which you eat one day, followed by a day of fasting. There are multiple versions of this fast one day and feast the next approach, with some choosing to eat nothing one day and as much as they want the next while others simply diminish their food intake significantly on the fast day.
The down side to this approach is that many find it difficult to adhere to and a study published in The JAMA Network Journals indicated that weight loss, weight management and risk of cardiovascular disease were not significantly different from a population that used daily calorie restriction.
The second approach comes in the form of the “restricted eating window.” This is where a person can eat as much as they would like during a specific timeframe, but not again outside of it.
Typically, the best hours to create a restricted eating window is between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. due to circadian rhythms (night and day routines many live by). This approach is called early time restricted feeding (eTRF) and has been shown to have health benefits beyond weight loss. A study from the University of Alabama showed that a population using eTRF showed improvement in blood pressure, appetite, insulin sensitivity and oxidative stress.
Intermittent Fasting’s Effect on Blood Sugar
To understand intermittent fasting’s effect on blood sugar, we have to understand the role of insulin in processing the food we eat into energy that we can use. Created by the pancreas, insulin turns glucose into energy, which is then stored in muscles and fat cells to be used later, or the liver where it is stored as glycogen.
When we eat, our blood sugar levels rise. Insulin is required to bring down glucose levels in the blood and prevent hyperglycemia, a condition caused by too much glucose present in our blood. For type 1 diabetics, the body does not create enough insulin, requiring that it be injected under the skin to help their bodies regulate glucose levels. For type 2 diabetics, it’s more often the case that the body has a sufficient amount of insulin, but it is not used properly due to cells within the body being insulin resistant. This can lead to dangerously high levels of glucose and significant ramifications for a person’s overall health.
One area of research beginning to come to light is what has been dubbed “type 3 diabetes,” but you might know it as it’s more common name; Alzheimer’s disease. The bridge between diabetes and brain health brings us back to glucose.
Increased exposure to glucose raises the risk of glycation taking place, a process by which certain proteins are damaged and morph into advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs impact the ability of neurons in the brain to function properly. A study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex found that Alzheimer’s patients possess high levels of AGEs in the brain.
Where intermittent fasting comes in is through the diminishing of insulin levels. When we eat less, we have less glucose in our blood streams and thus, require less insulin to move it into fat cells for storage. This lowering of insulin levels allows the fat cells to release the sugar to be used for energy, thus allowing us to burn fat, but more importantly, lower the level glucose in the blood stream. Doing so can decrease insulin resistance and increase sensitivity to insulin, making it more efficient at transporting glucose and reducing the risk of glycation occurring.