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To Fast or Not To Fast? That is The Question…

By. Dr. Natasha Turner ND

No matter how you feel about the “hanger” or potential stress of fasting, it’s hard to ignore the documented benefits of this recent dietary rage. There is a lot of discussion about the benefits of fasting and incorporating it into your lifestyle – but it can do more harm than good when the wrong approach is adopted. In this article you’ll discover the studies showing the science to back it up and my thoughts on the right style should you decide to delve into the fasting world.

Benefits of Fasting

Fasting helps your heart health

A scientific review in the British Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease suggests that fasting diets may help those with diabetes and cardiovascular disease, alongside established weight loss claims. Cardiac researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute (May 2011) have demonstrated that routine periodic fasting is good for our health and our hearts. This discovery expands upon a 2007 Intermountain Healthcare study that revealed an association between fasting and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death among men and women in America. Fasting was also found to reduce other cardiac risk factors, such as triglycerides, weight and blood sugar levels.

It slows the aging process and boosts your metabolism

Both humans and mice that manage to live to a ripe old age show a clear change in their glucose metabolism, according to a study by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (November 2007). Terry Combs and his colleagues report that changes in metabolism can indeed increase longevity as they uncovered that long-lived mice burn less glucose and more fatty acids during periods of fasting, and as a result produce fewer free radicals.

The key to this switch may be fasting and its associated adiponectin boost. Adiponectin is the hormone our body releases during exercise that burns fat, aids insulin balance and reduces inflammation. Researchers found that Snell mice had three times as much adiponectin in their blood as control mice; Snell mice also had fewer triglycerides in their cells, indicative of higher fat metabolism. 

It helps to keep you strong and lean via boosting growth hormone

Studies have clearly shown that our body responds to the fasting by boosting growth hormone – the hormone that helps build muscle. Apparently, the hunger or stress caused by fasting leads the body to release more cholesterol, which allows it to utilize fat as a source of fuel, instead of glucose. Ultimately then, this decreases the number of fat cells in the body. Growth hormone protects the lean muscle and metabolic balance, a response triggered and accelerated by fasting. During the 24-hour fasting periods undertaken in the study, growth hormone increased an average of 1,300% in women and nearly 2,000% in men. 

It improves blood sugar metabolism and Type II Diabetes

A team led by James Brown from Aston University (April 2013) evaluated the various approaches to intermittent fasting in scientific literature. They searched specifically for the advantages and limitations in treating obesity and type 2 diabetes using fasting diets. The basic format of intermittent fasting is to alternate days eating ‘normally’ with days when calorie consumption is restricted. This can either be done on alternate days (day 1: eat normally; day 2: restrict;) or two days within each week are considered ‘fasting days.’ These types of intermittent fasting have been shown in trials to be as effective as or more effective than counting calories every day to lose weight. Evidence from clinical trials shows that fasting can limit inflammation, improve levels of sugars and fats in circulation by impacting adiponectin, and reduce blood pressure. 

The four common approaches to intermittent fasting and my thoughts on each:

My answer to the question should you fast or not varies from person to person, as it must be determined based on how much stress you are under, the amount of muscle you have, and your daily dietary habits especially, with respect to protein. Once you determine if you should adopt intermittent fasting, the next step is to determine which style to try. 

Fasting Styles Based on One to Two Days Per Week:

1) The 5:2 Diet popularized by Dr. Michael Mosley, it involves eating normally five days a week and two days a week eating one quarter of your normal caloric intake, so 500 – 600 calories a day.  

My thoughts: Some responsibility should be taken for how you eat most days of the week, I mean two days of fasting can’t make up for five free-for all days packed with artificial sweeteners, bad fats, sugar, processed foods, excess carbs and inflammatory foods. I do, however, think this is the most beneficial means of intermittent fasting.

2) The Eat Stop Eat Method works by fasting from 5 pm one day to 5 pm the following day, twice a week. 

My thoughts: I am not opposed to this style, and often recommend it to people who work night shift or personal trainers by suggesting they have one meal early morning and then fast to the following morning. During your cleanse day, you should drink at least three to four litres of warm or cold herbal teas to support the cleansing process. I recommend a combination of herbs with anti-inflammatory and diuretic effects such as ginger, lemon, blueberry, hibiscus, dandelion, green tea and parsley.

I am not against either of these approaches one to two days a week, but only when the minimal amount of protein to prevent muscle loss is consumed on the other five to six days. If you are muscle deficient or under stress the 5:2 approach is best. Also, one to two day per week fasting styles are my preference as they target fat loss versus muscle loss as it tops as a means of fasting for weight loss, without causing metabolic stress or hormone disruption. 

Fasting Styles Based On An Ongoing Basis:

3) The 16:8 This approach involves eating two meals within an 8-hour span and 16 hours of fasting. Most people skip breakfast, eat lunch around 1 or 2 pm and a second meal by 6 to 8 pm.  

My thoughts: Clinically, I have failed to see significant weight loss with this approach and in fact all the patients I observed who had self-adopted the 16:8 lost muscle mass and developed physical signs of adrenal fatigue simply due to the stress of not eating until late in the day and failing to get protein in the morning which is essential for thyroid function and dopamine for mental focus and preventing excess cortisol.  

4) Alternate day fasting. Using this fasting method means fasting 24 hours, every other day.

My thoughts: I think there could be more risk than benefits with this approach, especially with respect to the loss of metabolically active tissue, increasing cortisol and suppressing metabolism controlled by thyroid hormones all caused by low caloric consumption on a regular basis. Also, there are not many studies to show the benefits of fasting longer than 24 hours. I suspect alternate day fasting has the least compliance, where it seems most compliance is associated with the 5:2 or 16:8. 

I can safely say that I do not support any type of fasting on an ongoing basis due, to all of these potentially negative effects.  I have never observed a patient successfully retain muscle on the 16:8 approach. 

Other Fasting Tips

Intermittent fasting powers a boost in glucagon, adiponectin and growth hormone. You can fast once or twice a week if you want to accelerate your plan. I recommend doing your cleanse day on Tuesdays or Wednesdays: it gives you a day or two of clean eating after the weekend, which will get your insulin back in balance, quiet cravings, and steady your appetite if you had your cheat meal on the weekend. Want to accelerate your fasting results? Take six capsules of a plant-based omega before starting your fasting day and immediately following it. This secret tip assists with muscle metabolism and insulin balance.

If you feel overly hungry, add more protein or vegetables and drink more herbal teas and remind yourself that the benefits of fasting extend beyond just the 24 hours. It does get easier with time and experience. You can still exercise (without the fear of losing muscle when you use the right fasting style as I have explained). Best news –  you can still have your one to two cups of organic coffee with cream and cinnamon daily. Fasting is not recommended during pregnancy or for those who are on insulin or have type I diabetes, are underweight or overly stressed.

Dr. Turner ND is the Founder of Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and Bestselling Author of four books including The Hormone Diet (#69 on the CBC List of the Top 150 for Canada’s 150); The New York Times Bestseller and US News Best Diet Book Choice The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her latest latest release is The Hormone Boost.

About The Author

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