Fasting, Feasting: The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting, which was believed to be the new formula for achieving healthy weight loss and a healthy lifestyle, may increase a person’s risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, a new unpublished study has pointed out.

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Experts point out that while the short-term benefits of intermittent fasting are proven, there is not enough research on the long-term impact. (istockphoto)

While the study’s findings are being examined, health experts in India are divided about the long-term impacts of intermittent fasting. Some insist that when done correctly, under the guidance of a doctor, it can help achieve health goals, others point out that its effect on a person’s health in the long term can be debilitating.

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Last week, an abstract was presented at an American Heart Association Conference that claimed people who followed the common 16:8 intermittent fasting rule — fasting for 16 hours and eating in an eight-hour window — faced a 91% increased risk of dying from heart disease compared to people who spread their meals over 12 to 16 hours. The abstract also suggested that 7.5% of those who ate within eight hours died of heart disease during the study, compared with 3.6% of those who ate within 12 to 16 hours. The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey ((NHANES) in observational research to identify relationships between lifestyle factors and disease over 15 years. The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which means the claims in the study are unproven.

According to Johns Hopkins documents, intermittent fasting is defined as an eating plan that alternates between fasting and eating on a regular schedule. The most acceptable formula is 16:8 but there are others including the 5:2 formula which involves eating regularly five days a week and restricting calorie intake two days a week. In these two days, a person should consume only 500-600 calories against the daily requirement of 2000-3000 calories.

“There are several different ways to do intermittent fasting, but they all rely on choosing regular periods of time to eat and fast. For example, you could try eating only during an eight-hour period each day and to fast for the rest. Or you can choose to eat only one meal a day two days a week. There are many different schedules of intermittent fasting,” the Johns Hopkins document says.

The abstract showed that the increased risk of cardiovascular death was also seen in people living with heart disease or cancer. Among people with existing cardiovascular disease, a duration of eating “not less than eight but less than 10 hours per day was also associated with a 66% higher risk of death from heart disease or stroke.” .

“Limiting daily eating time to a short period, such as eight hours a day, has gained popularity in recent years as a way to lose weight and improve heart health,” according to a statement released by the American Association of the Heart, citing senior study author Victor. Wenze Zhong, a professor and chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in Shanghai, China.

The statement added, “However, the long-term health effects of time-restricted eating, including the risk of death from any cause or cardiovascular disease, are unknown.”

So what is it?

Dr LK Jha, associate director and chief of cardiology at the Asian Hospital, said that intermittent fasting has been found to have variable effects on various cardiovascular parameters. “It has been shown to lead to fluctuations in blood sugars and ketone levels. It also leads to fluctuations in blood pressure,” he said.

However, the observation of its negative effect on cardiovascular health was related to the overall lean body mass of the group being observed, he said. Thus, more research is needed, he said.

“Short-term intermittent fasting has beneficial effects such as weight loss and better lipid profile, but long-term intermittent fasting has been shown to almost double the risk of cardiovascular death. This observation is based on overall lean body mass in this patient group. We need more data before we can say for sure about its long-term effects,” Jha said.

Dr Sukriti Bhalla, consultant, cardiology, at Aakash Healthcare in Delhi said intermittent fasting, if done properly, has shown numerous health benefits.

“Its success will actually depend on how long the fast is done. Fasting has always been beneficial and has long-proven benefits, but the benefits of fasting can only be achieved if healthy eating habits are maintained after the fast. ,” said Dr Bhalla.

She said that people who fast should be aware of excess calorie intake during the non-fasting period. Improvements such as weight loss, improved activity, sugar control, blood pressure control, reduced insulin levels, cholesterol control, etc. have been seen in patients who have followed intermittent fasting.

Experts point out that while the short-term benefits of intermittent fasting have been proven, there is not enough research on the long-term impact.

In any case, any kind of supposed “fad diet” on the go without preparing the body, or indeed, knowing what the body needs, is dangerous. Dr Ravi Prakash, senior consultant, cardiology at Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute (PSRI Hospital), said “fad diets” that cause sudden and sharp weight loss may not be best for a person’s heart health in the long term.

Ultimately, losing weight with consistent exercise and a healthy diet will help maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Restricting your eating window to eight hours or less is neither healthy nor easy to maintain long-term. We’ve seen that eating small meals at regular intervals has shown better results good for weight loss and also cardiovascular health,” he said.

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