Is intermittent fasting the health hack you need?

It’s pegged as the new cure-all for weight loss and disease prevention. But how effective is it really?

By now you will have heard of intermittent fasting. Less of a diet, and more of a lifestyle choice, new scientific studies are showing that it accelerates weight loss and fat burning, and has a host of other health benefits.

So what exactly is it? To break it down: intermittent fasting allocates times to eat, and times to fast. The popular 5:2 diet is an example of this, but you can also choose to follow the 16:8 method. This involves fasting for 16 hours, before an eight hour eating window, for example between 12pm and 8pm.

To get the low down on just what intermittent fasting can for your health, I spoke to Olga Hamilton, nutritional therapist and weight loss specialist, about whether it’s as good as the hype makes out.

Olga Hamilton, nutritional therapist

First of all, intermittent fasting is, according to Hamilton, the easiest and the fastest way to lose weight. ‘It’s one of the most powerful interventions to move your body into a fat burning mode.’ Fasting sends the body into ketosis, when the body burns fat for energy instead of glucose.

‘One of the mechanisms that makes fasting so effective for weight loss is the fact that it provokes the secretion of the Human Growth Hormone, which is a fat burning hormone,’ explains Hamilton. ‘It also boosts hormones that increase your resting energy expenditure, which decreases your insulin levels and allows your stored fat to be burnt for fuel.’

And the best thing? You can eat anything you like in the eight hour window, and most likely still lose weight. ‘People like it because you don’t have to focus on exactly what you’re eating,’ says Hamilton. ‘Although it’s best to make some healthy changes as well, to really benefit from the effects of intermittent fasting.’ So a good diet, plus intermittent fasting, could be just what you need to supercharge your path to health.

What’s more, studies have also shown that intermittent fasting can have a therapeutic effect for people with Type 2 diabetes. ‘It hasn’t been proven to reverse or treat Type 2 diabetes,’ explains Hamilton. ‘But we can say that it can help in the reduction of blood sugar and weight loss, and improve insulin sensitivity.’

Further down the line, a link has also been made between diabetes and an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. In fact, people who have Type 2 diabetes may be up to 60 per cent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. ‘They now call Alzheimer’s Type 3 diabetes,’ says Hamilton. ‘They believe one of the contributing factors is the same as in Type 2 diabetes: you have permanently high blood sugar, which damages your blood vessels and the capillaries in your brain. And it affects how your brain is supplied with oxygen and nutrients, and this increases your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.’ Although it’s early days yet, studies are tentatively proposing that intermittent fasting could also help to reduce the decline of cognitive function associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

So, between weight loss, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, is intermittent fasting the wonder cure some people are heralding it as? Further studies need to be done before we can definitively say it’s a cure-all, but signs seem to point to its benefit for long term health and wellbeing. And, if nothing else, it’s an easy health hack for those people trying to keep their weight on-track.

With thanks to Olga Hamilton,

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