• HEALTH & NUTRITION

Intermittent fasting and your cells

As the decades pass, we’ve witnessed plenty of diet trends come and go. From the low-fat era of the 90’s to the low-carb phase that ruled the 2000’s. As polarizing as they tend to be, there’s never a shortage of new trends or fads – but there is often a shortage of research that backs their plausibility.

Cells and mitochondria

Most diet trends are built on quick fixes that don’t deliver sustainable, long-term results. And while we’re naturally navigating away from diet culture, there’s still a lot of confusion around what to eat, when to eat, and how much. Which may be why people are so fascinated by intermittent fasting.

What is intermittent fasting?

Instead of worrying about what to eat and how much, intermittent fasting only dictates when you eat. This makes it less of a diet, and more of an eating pattern. Intermittent fasting involves creating an ‘eating window’ so that you have a substantial gap of time between when you finish your last meal of the day, until when you eat again the next.

The ‘eating window’, or the length of time you fast for, varies depending on what type of intermittent fasting method you follow. The 16/8 method tends to be the most popular way to intermittently fast, which involves eating within an 8 hour period and fasting for the following 16 hours. The great thing about intermittent fasting is that it doesn’t encourage a restrictive mindset, and instead allows you to eat as you normally would within your eating window (although, reducing the amount of hours you eat in a day may naturally cause you to eat less).

Many studies have concluded that intermittent fasting provides some serious health benefits. Just a few include:

  • Supporting insulin resistance
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Promoting healthy weight loss
  • Supporting longevity

But what we’re most excited about, is the amount of research surrounding intermittent fasting and our cells!

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What happens to our cells when we fast? It turns out – a lot!

Housekeeping

When we fast, the body is encouraged to complete processes that are not usually stimulated when food is always present. Think about it, the amount of energy and resources it takes to digest and assimilate the food we eat is enormous. And oftentimes, we’re already making our way through our next snack before our previous meal has even been properly digested!

Autophagy is one of these crucial processes that takes place when the body is in a fasted state. This evolutionary survival mechanism helps remove damaged cells to regenerate new, healthy cells. Autophagy helps by removing or recycling the cellular debris, to make room for a healthier internal environment where new cells can flourish. As we age, autophagy declines - which is why diet changes like intermittent fasting can be beneficial to trigger this necessary process.

Ketosis

Ketosis is a state where the body burns fat for energy instead of glucose, our body’s primary fuel source. We enter ketosis when the body has no access to glucose, which forces our cells to use fat as our body’s preferred source of fuel. Ketosis has been linked to many benefits, like supporting weight loss, improving metabolic flexibility, helping to reduce insulin and supporting cardiovascular health.

A popular way to reach ketosis is by following a low carbohydrate diet, which encourages our cells to utilize fat instead of glucose as their preferred fuel source. But fasting has also been shown to promote these same benefits. By restricting the body’s access to glucose, intermittent fasting (e.g. the 16/8 eating pattern) forces our cells to utilize fat as our primary source of fuel for at least part of the day.

This means that the body can reach a state of ketosis, and reap these same benefits – without having to say good-bye to carbohydrates.

Optimized mitochondrial function

Fasting has been shown to promote mitochondrial function in some studies by forcing the body to become more efficient at producing energy, or ATP. By optimizing mitochondrial function, intermittent fasting can help power up our cells and improve energy and cellular regulation. The way our cells and mitochondria are encouraged to adapt during periods of fasting can also help them become more efficient. And without a steady stream of food to process, the body can efficiently produce new mitochondria while repairing the old, damaged ones.

Who should avoid intermittent fasting?

While there are plenty of benefits to time-restricted eating, it’s definitely not for everyone. There is evidence to suggest that intermittent fasting may not be as supportive for women as it is for men. Human studies are still lacking in this area, but animal studies suggest that following an eating pattern like intermittent fasting may disrupt the hormonal balance of women in some cases. Reducing the amount of hours you eat in a day may also naturally cause you to eat less overall – which can be problematic for athletes, busy moms or those who have a high energy output.

At the end of the day, it’s always important to listen to your body and give it what it needs, because we all have unique energy requirements.

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