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To Eat or Not to Eat; That is the Question (Intermittent Fasting)

Daily, we are bombarded with fad diets and popular crazes. “Lose 10 stones if you follow this” or “Actress so and so lost so much weight and looks 90 years younger on this diet!” The diet industry has made tons of money on fad products, books, and pills playing on insecurities and the dream of attaining the perfect body image.

However, many diets are not scientifically sound or research-backed and may actually become outright dangerous for at-risk individuals (anyone remember the 6 litres of water a day fad?!). I believe any time we hear of a new diet, we should look to field experts and check with our own doctors to make sure it is safe for us and our health situation. 

Today, let's talk about Intermittent Fasting. It’s definitely not a new “diet” because many cultures have fasted for years for religious reasons or otherwise. Why the renewed interest? Six years ago, a study indicated that a 3-day fast can essentially reset the immune system. These benefits include improved cardiovascular health, better endurance, lower blood pressure, and reduced inflammation. 

Science suggests that a 2-3 days fast will induce your body to clean out some old immune cells and switch on the production of new ones according to Dr. Mattson. And it appears that intermittent fasting, which is easier to do, may work in a similar way, with multiple health benefits.

Intermittent Fasting gets your body to switch from glucose metabolism to ketone metabolism. Our usual 3-meal-a-day diet provides our body with a steady source of fuel in the form of glucose. Once that glucose is used up, our body switches to using fatty acids and ketone bodies. Ketone bodies provide more than fuel, as de Cabo and Mattson explain, "Ketone bodies regulate the expression and activity of many proteins and molecules that are known to influence health and aging."

Intermittent fasting also results in increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is a crucial protein for the long term survival of neurons, and the continued growth of new neurons throughout our lives. BDNF plays a major role in maintaining the parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Basically, fasting can increase the resistance of brain cells to dysfunction and degeneration. This means that your brain will stay healthier longer, continuing to thrive as you age.

Of course the major benefit most people gravitate to Intermittent Fasting is weight loss. The simple reason for weight loss is the calorie deficit.

You can do Intermittent Fasting many different ways. The most popular is 16:8, fast 16 hours, eat 8 hours of the day or 14:10, 12:12 etc. You can also do 5:2 eat 5 days: fast 2 days, or alternate fast one day: eat the next. However, caution should be exercised if you’re Diabetic or have other major health conditions. Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program or change in diet.

Intermittent Fasting may have been around for ages, but we’re only discovering its wonderful benefits now. From reduced inflammation, weight loss, and better brain function, I believe this “craze” is worth taking a good look at.

- Dr. Sandra Daoud