The Benefits of Fasting Extend Beyond Weight Loss

Fasting can help in managing epilepsy, cancer, and diabetes and can improve cognitive impairment, but certain people should be cautious.

Many people nowadays restrict their meals to an eight-hour window when they have trouble buttoning their pants. However, an increasing number of studies have found that fasting benefits extend beyond weight loss.

In early March 2024, a study was published in Nature Metabolism in which 12 volunteers underwent a seven-day fast, consuming only water and no food. The researchers monitored their physical condition and found that after the fast, these individuals had an average weight loss of 12.57 pounds. The study also found that during prolonged fasting, several organs in the body undergo significant systemic changes, with over 1,000 proteins showing distinct responses. The researchers estimated the beneficial and adverse effects of changes in 212 proteins, providing a basis for future targeted therapeutic modulation.

Claudia Langenberg, a co-author of the study, stated in a press release that the study demonstrated how the health benefits of fasting extend beyond weight loss. However, these benefits only became visible after completely restricting calories for three days, which was later than previously thought.

The lead author, Maik Pietzner, noted that while fasting may be beneficial for treating certain diseases, it is often not an option for patients with poor health conditions. He hopes that the findings will aid in the development of feasible treatment methods for all patients in the future.

There are various types of intermittent fasting, including alternate-day, periodic, and time-restricted fasting. An increasing body of research has shown that fasting, whatever the kind, is beneficial for treating various diseases.

Improving Cognitive Impairment

Fasting can promote brain health. A study published in Nutrients in 2020 followed 99 older individuals with mild cognitive impairment for three years. The results showed that patients who regularly fasted experienced positive changes in cognitive function. The researchers stated that fasting can help improve cognitive function through a ketogenic effect, as ketone bodies have neuroprotective properties that can increase the survival of neurons under pathological conditions such as hypoxia and ischemia.

Another study found that after fasting from dawn to sunset for 30 consecutive days, healthy participants exhibited a significant reduction in amyloid beta precursor protein (APP) compared to before fasting. Amyloid beta is a major component of amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and is considered one of the leading causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

Fasting Benefits in Cancer Treatment

A study published in Nature Communications in 2020 simulated the effects of fasting on early-stage breast cancer patients. The researchers randomly divided 131 patients into two groups, one undergoing a fasting-mimicking diet and the other a regular diet for three days before and during neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The results showed that patients receiving the fasting-mimicking diet were likelier to achieve a 90 percent to 100 percent reduction in tumor cells. Furthermore, the fasting-mimicking diet significantly reduced the DNA damage in T-lymphocytes induced by chemotherapy.

Another study indicated that fasting for two to four days before chemotherapy can protect normal cells, mice, and potentially humans from the adverse side effects of chemotherapy drugs. Additionally, combining fasting with chemotherapy can delay the progression of various types of tumors, including breast cancer and glioma.

Improving Diabetes

Fasting can increase insulin sensitivity. One study showed that fasting could potentially minimize the risk of hypoglycemia in Type 1 diabetes patients, reduce swings in blood glucose levels, and improve fat metabolism in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients.

In a study published in JAMA Network Open in 2018, adults with Type 2 diabetes practiced intermittent energy restriction twice a week for 12 months. The results showed that intermittent energy restriction significantly reduced the average fasting blood sugar, total cholesterol, “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels in diabetic patients.

A case report documented that three patients with Type 2 diabetes eliminated the need for insulin within one month of following a therapeutic fasting regimen.

Managing Epilepsy

The use of fasting to treat epilepsy has a 2,500-year history. In the early 1920s, Harvard Medical School began researching the effects of fasting on epilepsy and noted that seizures typically improved after two to three days. The researchers found that the absence of food or carbohydrates forces the body to burn fat, which changes metabolism and can help manage epilepsy.

Who Should Avoid Fasting?

While fasting offers various health benefits, it may not suit everyone. If you are considering fasting, be sure to consult your doctor.

Though many studies found fasting could control blood sugar, it doesn’t mean every diabetic patient should adopt this diet. Skipping meals and restricting calories can also be dangerous for diabetes, Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, highlighted on Harvard University’s website.

Additionally, those taking medication for blood pressure or heart disease may be more susceptible to electrolyte abnormalities from fasting.

Li Wan-Pin, a Taiwanese dietitian, pointed out in an article on her website that fasting is not suitable for children or adolescents in their growth and development stage, pregnant or breastfeeding women, athletes with high-calorie demands, and underweight individuals. It is also not recommended for those with current or past eating disorders.

Important Notice: This article was originally published at by Ellen Wan where all credits are due.


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