A fad is something that becomes popular quickly, but then often fades away. But some fads stick around because they have lasting value. Something that gains popularity quickly may or may not have value, but if it does, it continues to be popular, and eventually history shows it wasn’t really a fad, but a good idea that stuck around.
You might have heard of intermittent fasting, and considered it just a fad. After all, there have been many popular diets that have sprung up, promising some fantastic advantage which few actually deliver. Studies are showing real value from intermittent fasting, however, and this “fad” is likely to remain.
Unlike diets where you only eat certain foods, or you restrict calories, intermittent fasting (IF) is a pattern for eating which says little about what to eat. We often think of diets as programs for losing weight, and if you are not overweight, you may see no benefit in IF. So if you think, “I don’t need to diet”, then don’t consider IF as a diet. It is a healthy daily eating pattern.
Something for everyone
IF works for young and old, overweight and even underweight, healthy or not so healthy. Yes, there are a few cases where caution is needed, such as pregnancy or breastfeeding, but most of us can benefit greatly from intermittent fasting. Since much of the fasting period is during sleep, it doesn’t require a lot of effort, special food preparation, or record keeping.
Breaking the typical pattern
If you are eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), which sadly is becoming the worldwide diet, you are getting too much sugar or simple carbohydrates that break down into sugar very rapidly. If you are eating the SAD and don’t have diabetes yet, you are at least causing some insulin resistance and setting the stage for diabetes to develop. Insulin is the hormone that the body uses to deal with excess sugar— sugar which is not immediately needed by the body. Initially insulin drives sugar into the cells to support their metabolism, and it is important that this process work well. When there is excess sugar, insulin tells the body to preserve the sugar energy for later use by storing it in the liver. Insulin’s purpose is to keep just the right amount of sugar going to your cells, and then store the rest, because excess sugar left in the bloodstream is very damaging, as diabetics know all too well.
The body requires balance, and has many mechanisms to restore balance when there is excess. These mechanisms can be overloaded, and that is when problems occur. Even exercise needs to be balanced with rest, as the body needs time to repair the temporary damage done by exercise. The sugar balancing process for the body is controlled by the insulin hormone and its opposing hormone, glucagon. When blood sugar is low, insulin shuts off and glucagon takes over, telling your liver to release the stored sugar into your blood to keep your cells supplied with the correct amount of energy. This process is called “glycogenolysis”, where the stored glycogen is converted to glucose. These two hormones, insulin and glucagon, normally keep you provided with a constant flow of energy throughout the day — unless the process is overloaded.
The big problem with chronically high insulin is “insulin resistance”: the cells are seeing insulin so often that they become less responsive to it, much like you are less responsive to an otherwise fun activity after hours and hours of the same thing. Eventually even fun gets boring. With insulin levels consistently high, your cells get tired of responding to that hormone. They need a break. Resting from insulin means that glucagon is in charge, you give your body a natural break instead of breaking down the insulin-handling process of the cells, and your blood sugar management will work better.
What happens when the liver runs out of its stored glycogen and you are still running the glucagon cycle? Than means you fasted for a longer period of time than the liver could supply energy. Now what? The body switches to “fasting” mode, where it starts burning long term stores of fat. The blood glucose levels must be maintained, and the next step is “gluconeogenesis”. This is where “fat burning” kicks in. The switch-over to fat burning isn’t immediate; as the liver supply of glycogen depletes, the body starts looking for replenishment from other sources before a blood sugar crisis hits.
Intermittent fasting is designed to trigger the switch to fat burning, but doesn’t maintain if for long. The suggested eating period is 8 hours, leaving 16 hours food-free, which is generally enough time for fat burning to begin. The term “intermittent” is misleading. IF is actually regular and limited fasting. It extends the period of resting from insulin regularly, helping the body to not tire from insulin during the eating period.
Without the discipline of IF, we can flip the numbers, getting 16 hours of insulin activity and just the 8 hours (if we get that) of sleep. We eat right after rising, then have dessert and snacks well into the evening. We may even eat something to “help” get to sleep. Dinner is traditionally late, and of course we want to pack in breakfast before going to work for the day. Then we eat more sugar during the day to try to stay energized, making the insulin cycle both intense and long. The greatest difficulty in following IF may be cultural, because friends and family push you off your disciplined schedule. No wonder our cells start developing insulin resistance! It’s part of SAD — not only what we eat, but also when we eat. Thankfully, IF is becoming popular, and following IF is gaining more cultural acceptance.
Health benefits of IF
We’ve covered how IF is very effective at combating, and even reversing, insulin resistance, the cause of type-II diabetes. There are some lesser known benefits as well. Perhaps the most significant is reduction of inflammation. One reason for inflammation is high levels of monocytes in the blood stream. Monocytes are white blood cells which are vital in fighting infection but are inflammatory and should not be chronically high. Published in Cell, researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai determined that fasting “significantly reduced the number of circulating monocytes” in humans. Yet, when individuals already had an optimal level of monocytes, the numbers did not drop further, so IF tended to normalize monocyte levels.
Inflammation is also promoted by oxidative stress, and in a fasting study published in Antioxidant, 109 subjects were tested by researchers at the Buchinger Wilhelm Clinic. Thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS), a measure of oxidative damage to lipids, reduced significantly under fasting conditions in the test subjects. Lipid oxidation makes cholesterol inflammatory and dangerous, so fasting lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Various studies show IF improving blood pressure, triglyceride levels, cholesterol levels, and various inflammatory markers — all lowering the cardiovascular disease risk.
Need more evidence of the value of IF? Consider autophagy, the process of “cellular clean-up”, where cellular waste products, such as broken down or dysfunctional proteins, are removed. IF promotes autophagy activity. In a study published in Ageing Research Reviews, research conducted at the University of Medical Sciences in Mashhad, Iran on the effects of fasting and calorie restriction (CR) concluded that both increase autophagy dramatically: “We conclude that both fasting and CR have a role in the upregulation of autophagy, the evidence overwhelmingly suggesting that autophagy is induced in a wide variety of tissues and organs in response to food deprivation.” Intermittent fasting is one form of fasting which promotes autophagy.
Another study shows that IF promotes long term memory retention even better than other dietary techniques. Published in Molecular Psychiatry, a study conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London compared the effects of other calorie restricted (CR) diets against IF — CR diets had already been shown to improve memory retention. Over three months, those in the IF group showed increased neurogenesis (creation of new brain neurons) over the CR group. Thus IF is an effective technique to improve memory function, especially as we age. In fact, given the neurogenesis, lowered oxidative stress, and lowered inflammation, you can say that IF is simply anti-aging.
The best of both worlds
If you combine intermittent fasting with an excellent diet, the impact on your health can be amazing. During the 8 hours of eating, you can eat a lot, especially if not trying to lose weight, and good fats such as avocado pack in so much energy over time that you can replenish energy without spiking insulin. Since your eating period is shorter, it is even more important that what you eat be very nutrient dense: vegetables, greens, sprouts, seeds and nuts to the rescue!
A little self-discipline can dramatically improve your health. Simply trimming back to an earlier dinner, and a later breakfast, and not cheating with other food sources during your fasting period, can provide a lot of benefits. Perhaps you can’t get to a 16 hour fasting period all at once — just keep chiseling away at pushing it out a little at a time. Choose the right foods at the right times, and see what benefits you gain!
Dr. Nemec’s Review
What the study on the monocyte white blood cells shows is that intermittent fasting normalized the monocyte count. That is very important. When you do something that normalizes some aspect of your health that is a very big game changer, because most actions will either swing the physiology one way or the other, but only the most vital key activities will lower the high to normal and raise the low to normal. Then the study published in Molecular Psychiatry stated a powerful fact: intermittent fasting works even better than calorie restriction in stimulating the creation of new brain cells and improved memory.
When a person eats, it requires a tremendous amount of energy to digest the food. What happens during digestion depends on your food choices. If you ate a meal of cooked animal products with animal fats and cooked carbs, all these become oxidized and free radical forming and increase the detoxification load of the entire body. As that food sits in the digestive tract it can putrefy if the food going into the digestive tract was made of glycated (heated) carbohydrates, oxidized fats and denatured cooked proteins. So why am I mentioning this negative aspect of the food most people eat? Because with that much of a toxic load that has to be processed to squeeze out some nutrition and calories, you would do a great service to your liver, kidneys, small intestine, large intestine and pancreas to just spend less time making it work this hard. This is achieved beautifully with a 16 hour fast from all food, only drinking water. I could add volumes on what you should eat here, but the main point of intermittent fasting is you still get some benefit no matter what quality or type of food you eat as long as you rest the digestion for 16 hours. Of course the food choices that are more living/raw plant sourced greatly multiply the benefits, but if you are not ready to get that healthy then just start with eating during less time in the day. Remember what your body naturally does when you are not feeling well? It fasts automatically to reset itself. Now you can reset yourself when you are not sick so you can prevent ever getting sick. We put all our patients on personalized anti-aging diet plans and eventually shift them to eating less hours of the day.
Here are the ways we can help you in your health journey:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.