Over the past few years, intermittent fasting has been getting a lot of media attention, but is it a good long-term solution for maintaining healthy glucose levels?
Well, according to new research coming out, it actually is.
For example, recent human and animal studies by neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine showed that alternating between times of fasting and eating supports cellular health by triggering an age-old adaptation to periods of food scarcity called metabolic switching.
Metabolic switching occurs when cells use up their stores of sugar-based fuel and begin converting fat into energy in a slower metabolic process.
This switch has been proven to improve blood sugar regulation, increase resistance to stress, and suppress inflammation.
But most Americans eat three meals plus snacks each day. So, they may not experience the switch.
And evidence is also mounting that intermittent fasting can modify risk factors associated with obesity and diabetes, says Mark Mattson, Ph.D. of Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“We are at a transition point where we could soon consider adding information about intermittent fasting to medical school curricula alongside standard advice about healthy diets and exercise,” he says. (1)
With all the benefits of intermittent fasting, it’s easy to see why it just can’t be ignored.
Before we move on, let’s get clear on what intermittent fasting means and what it’s not.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
For full context, in metabolism, your body alternates between two states: the fasted state and the fed state. You’re either in one of those states at any moment of your day.
The fed state happens right after and during a meal or a snack, when your body is digesting the food and absorbing its nutrients.
As your body absorbs different nutrients from your meal, excess glucose is stored for later use in the liver – in the form of glycogen.
The fasted state is simply the opposite. It begins after the food has been digested, absorbed, and properly stored.
When you’re in a fasted state, the liver converts glycogen back to glucose to keep supplying the body with energy.
And as glycogen is used up, glucose levels drop – which leads to a drop in insulin levels as well. The used-up glycogen is replaced during the fed state – which leads to an increase in insulin levels.
Typically, an inactive person takes about 10 to 12 hours to use up their glycogen stores, although someone who exercises may do so in much less time.
Once the reserve of glycogen in the liver is used up, the body taps into its fat stores.
Here’s what that means in simple terms:
Carbs are turned into glucose which we use for energy. Extra energy is stored in the liver.
If you remain in a fasting state long enough, your body will use the glucose stored in the liver – leading to a healthy glucose level. And when that runs out we use the fat for energy, thus losing weight.
This also comes with other health benefits.
For example, as you probably know, insulin level is regulated to match the amount of glucose in the blood (i.e., it’s high when you’re in the fed state and low during the fasted state).
Because insulin is secreted after each meal, eating throughout the day keeps insulin levels high most of the time.
Constant high insulin levels may cause insulin insensitivity – the main cause of prediabetes and diabetes type 2.
Fasting for longer periods leads to the opposite effect. It keeps your insulin levels low, reducing diabetes risks.
Practically everyone does a bit of fasting every day because when you’re sleeping at night, you’re fasting.
However, intermittent fasting is a more structured, effective, and intentional approach to keeping your body in a fasted state for longer.
It involves only eating at certain times during the day, and fasting at other times.
The goal is to keep your body in a fasted state long enough to use up the excess glucose in your body.
The most common and sustainable form of intermittent fasting is the 16:8 window.
It involves eating only within an 8-hour window, and fasting for the remaining 16 hours of your day.
This isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds because while your body is technically in the fast state for 16 hours, your night’s sleep counts for probably more than half of that time.
So, you’re only actively fasting for about 8 hours.
This gives your body the chance to use its energy store, boosting your metabolism, helping you achieve lower and stabilized glucose levels, and even leading to weight loss.
Some other types of intermittent fasting are:
- The 20:4 hour window. Here, you fast for 20 hours and only have your meals within a 4-hour window.
- The alternate-day fasting. This involves only taking foods with little or no calories for one day, and having full meals the next.
There are many flexible ways to go about it… but here’s what Intermittent fasting is NOT:
Intermittent fasting is NOT about forcefully starving yourself. Of course, feeling hungry and irritable is common during the first two weeks to a month as your body and brain adapt.
But to make this transition easier, you should gradually increase the duration and frequency of your fasting periods over several months, instead of “going cold turkey.”
If you’re looking to stabilize your glucose levels, maintain a constant healthy weight and optimize your metabolism… then intermittent fasting is a low-hanging fruit that can get you there (if properly done).
Plus, unlike other options, it’s free and highly flexible too!
When combined with other healthy lifestyle choices like a good diet and exercise routine, it can help you maintain a healthy glucose level.
And talking about glucose level, if you’d love to monitor your blood glucose levels, you can check out our revolutionary CGM (continuous glucose monitoring) device.
It helps you monitor your glucose levels without the pain that comes with needles. ou can read more about it here.
As much as intermittent fasting is a well-proven and highly recommended lifestyle choice for your metabolic health… before you start it, talk to your physician.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Intermittent fasting: Live ‘fast,’ live longer?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 December 2019.
- Adrienne Barnosky, Kristin Hoddy, Terry Unterman, and Krista Varady, “Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings,” Translational Research 164, no. 4 (2014): 302-311
- NM Byrne, A Sainsbury, NA King, AP Hills, and RE Wood, “Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADO study,” International Journal of Obesity 42, no. 2 (2017): 129-138