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Intermittent fasting and inflammation

Chronic inflammation has tremendous and negative consequences on your health, intermittent fasting helps you manage it.
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Summary
Written by
Anita Tejani Nutritionist

A fast way to beat inflammation


One of the greatest health risks of all time is inflammation, or should we say, chronic inflammation. The root of the word in Latin means ‘set fire’ and that’s exactly what chronic inflammation does if you let it run rampant in your body. It can ‘burn up’ your tissues and organs leaving them failing in their ability to do their job, which of course, has tremendous and negative consequences on your health. 

Fortunately, there’s a way to ease inflammation and allow your body to use it to its advantage, and that’s through intermittent fasting. Today, you’re going to discover more about the effects of intermittent fasting on the processes of inflammation, and how it may help you to ease the troubles that inflammation causes.

First, let’s dive a little deeper into what inflammation is, and why, when out of control, can be really bad news…


Inflammation has a protective function


Inflammation does get a bad rap, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Inflammation, when triggered as a short-term response, or acute state, promotes tissue healing after something has tried to harm the body such as an infection, injury or exposure to a toxin. 


Think about a time you’ve had a small cut on your finger. For a short time it was likely a little sore, a little red, a little swollen and a little warm, wasn’t it? Then, as time went by, it became slightly itchy and then healed up quite nicely. You can thank the processes of inflammation for that! As the wound healed, the body stopped the inflammatory response in those tissues and everything went back to a state of balance. 


When this state of balance is not achieved after the initial injury, infection or exposure to a toxic compound, chronic inflammation may result. It’s the processes of chronic inflammation that research has linked to disease and illness such as asthma, arthritis, digestive disorders, fatigue, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and even cancer. 

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Supporting the body in its efforts to move back into a state of balance after an initial inflammatory response is fundamental to maintaining overall health, and it may be achieved in a number of ways, namely:


  • Managing stress
  • Following a health eating plan
  • Taking part in daily movement or physical activity
  • Quitting smoking, drinking alcohol and avoiding other possible toxins 

Another way to manage inflammation is through intermittent fasting.

Beat inflammation with(out) food


A significant amount of research shows that periods of fasting from food may improve body mass, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol*. Now, why would that be?


The simple answer is that research shows that the benefits of time-restricting eating and intermittent fasting are based on the way that the body adapts from an evolutionary standpoint, which has positive effects on our blood sugar management, stress resilience and inflammatory processes. It’s during times of fasting that the body really ramps up its ability to defend against foreign invaders and metabolic stress, as well as remove damaged cells, or repair ones it needs to keep*.


What do we mean by an evolutionary standpoint, you ask? Well, throughout early history our routines were largely dictated by a day night cycle. Without a constant supply of electricity, our ancestors were forced to be active during daylight hours, but rest at night. Food intake was also dictated by its availability. Most people would eat during restricted feeding windows, and only what was available to them, allowing their bodies to fast naturally*. 


Today, that’s not the case. Not only do we tend to graze all day, but when we burn the candle at both ends, staying awake far longer than we should, oftentimes we use that time to consume more food. We have to ask the questions then: if we hardly ever take a break from eating and we don’t rest when we’re supposed to, our bodies don’t have time to perform those critical duties that only happen during times of fasting*.


The effects? Lower defense mechanisms with increased susceptibility to infections, heightened metabolic stress with insulin resistance and high blood sugar, and an increased number of damaged cells and reduced tissue repair, which are hallmarks of the signs of ageing and disease. In other words, not fasting means lots of redness, pain and swelling in the body’s tissues and organs; inflammation that leads to a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer. 


This all ties in pretty neatly to what we said earlier about inflammation and disease. Obviously, fasting is not the solution to everything - but, if you can stop these highly inflammatory processes from taking place by incorporating fasting into your routine, you may very well be able to reduce the risk of disease by keeping your body in a more optimally functioning state*.

References:

  1. Di Francesco A, Di Germanio C, Bernier M, de Cabo R. A time to fast. Science 2018;362:770-5
  2. Mattson MP, Moehl K, Ghena N, Schmaedick M, Cheng A. Intermittent metabolic switching, neuroplasticity and brain health. Nat Rev Neurosci 2018;19: 63-80.
  3. Panda S. Circadian physiology of metabolism. Science 2016;354:1008-15.
  4. Mattson MP. An evolutionary perspective on why food overconsumption impairs cognition. Trends Cogn Sci 2019; 23:200-12.
  5. De Cabo, R., & Mattson, M. P. (2019). Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 381(26), 2541–2551.

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