Alternate day fasting is a type of intermittent fasting where you eat for one day and fast the next. It can be a great way to lose weight if you don’t mind feeling hungry most days.
Alternative day fasting (ADF) is pretty much what it sounds like—a diet plan where you only eat every other day. On fasting days, most people restrict their calories to about 25% of their normal daily amount, or about 500–600 calories for men and around 400–500 for women (calories per kilogram of body weight are probably more relevant).
On non-fasting days you eat normally. By restricting yourself to small portions on fast days, you are very likely to lose weight, though probably not as much as if you were to consistently eat way below your calorie needs every day.
Here are 10 benefits of alternate day/intermittent fasting I’ve found online
10 Benefits Of Alternate Day Fasting (ADF)
1) One study has linked alternate day fasting with reduced anxiety over time
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 18% of the population. They include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder—all of which can seriously impact your quality of life.
For example, one study found that 50–60% of unemployed people who experience a major depressive episode also meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder.
Alternate day fasting has been shown to improve anxiety symptoms in obese individuals and reduce non-fasting cortisol levels (anxiety is associated with raised cortisol levels, particularly before eating).
In a study on an alternate day fasting for six weeks, researchers found that anxiety scores significantly decreased in fasting women but not men.
2) Intermittent fasting helps normalize ghrelin levels and may therefore combat obesity by decreasing appetite
Ghrelin is a hormone produced by the stomach that makes us feel hungry. It’s one of the main hormones responsible for triggering our desire to eat. When we fast, ghrelin levels fall, which causes us to feel less hungry than usual and prevents overeating when we finally do sit down to a meal.
3) Intermittent fasting appears to boost metabolism, making us more efficient at burning the calories we do eat for energy
The way intermittent fasting improves metabolic efficiency is very similar to how exercise does. During exercise, muscles contract and expand rapidly. When contracting, they use up most of their oxygen but not all of it—and this is what produces the “burning” sensation you feel when exercising.
If you’ve ever watched the Olympics on TV, you know that athletes competing in short-distance sprints look leaner than those competing in long-distance marathons. This isn’t just because marathoners are less active while running—it’s also because they burn fewer calories per minute since they aren’t doing anaerobic exercises.
After we eat, most of the calories we absorb go to restore the energy (ATP) we burned while eating and digesting our food—what scientists refer to as resting metabolic rate.
During fasting, however, our bodies switch from burning primarily carbs and fat for energy to burning mostly fat. This is because when there’s no food in your stomach, you have nothing to metabolize and break down except your fat reserves (which are conveniently packed with calories).
Once you start eating again, this process reverses itself until your next fast.
4) Intermittent fasting can improve memory and learning capacity by increasing levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is a type of growth hormone that functions in the brain. BDNF enhances synaptic plasticity—the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time, which is critical for learning and memory formation. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, and other neurological disorders common in the elderly
Alternate day fasting may increase levels of BDNF by anywhere from 50–400% (study, study, study, study). Although more studies are needed to determine if this is a long-term effect.
5) Intermittent fasting increases levels of norepinephrine, which can improve focus
Norepinephrine is a brain neurotransmitter that plays an important role in memory, attention, decision-making, and problem-solving. Research on animals shows that intermittent fasting may increase level of brain norepinephrine by anywhere from 30–80%.
Additionally, low doses of norepinephrine can improve alertness and focus. Norepinephrine also improves mood by increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter closely linked with mood regulation.
6) Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight by increasing levels of the fat-burning hormone norepinephrine
Norepinephrine increases basal metabolic rate, which results in an increased number of calories burned each day. Since intermittent fasting is associated with elevated levels of norepinephrine, it may offer a useful strategy for achieving weight loss.
Maintain Muscle Mass
7) Intermittent fasting helps maintain muscle mass by influencing the mechanisms that regulate cellular autophagy and apoptosis (cell death)
Muscle wasting is one of the primary side effects of aging. A study done on rats suggests that alternate-day fasting slows muscle cell degradation by inducing the expression of genes responsible for regulating cellular autophagy and apoptosis (cell death). Maintaining muscle mass can help make you look and feel younger.
Lower Blood Pressure and Insulin Resistance
8) Intermittent fasting is linked with lower blood pressure and decreased insulin resistance
High blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to serious conditions like heart disease, chronic kidney failure, and stroke. Although intermittent fasting doesn’t directly lower blood pressure on average, it may help by improving the function of endothelial cells that line arteries throughout your body.
Endothelial cells produce nitric oxide which widens (dilates) blood vessels, allowing for more oxygen to pass through them. A study done on obese adults suggests that alternate-day fasting helps protect the function of these endothelial cells.
Improved endothelial cell function means improved oxygenation of tissues including those in your heart, which decreases your risk of developing hypertension over time.
Protects Against Type-2 Diabetes
9) Intermittent fasting protects against type 2 diabetes by decreasing liver fat and increasing insulin sensitivity
Similar to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes is a result of chronically high blood sugar levels. One of the primary reasons why people develop insulin resistance (when your cells can’t properly absorb glucose from the bloodstream) is excess fat in the liver.
A study done on mice suggests that alternate-day fasting promotes weight loss which results in decreased levels of liver fat and increased insulin sensitivity (study).
Research shows that people who fast intermittently have up to 96% lower fasting blood sugar than non-fasters. If you’re already diabetic, intermittent fasting may be able to help avoid taking medication or getting an injection.
Maintaining good blood sugar control can decrease your risk of developing other serious health conditions associated with diabetes.
10) Intermittent fasting increases the resistance of your neurons to excitatory stress and prevents neurodegeneration
Your brain requires a significant amount of energy to function properly. To accomplish this, it predominantly relies on glucose, a simple sugar that comes from the foods you eat.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from insulin resistance, a condition where cells fail to respond normally to insulin. When cells become less sensitive or outright resistant to insulin, blood sugar levels can start rising.
Elevated blood sugar has been linked to various diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Fortunately, our brains have a backup mechanism in the form of ketones.
During fasting or extended periods without food, your liver secretes large amounts of ketones into your bloodstream. Ketones are an efficient energy source for your brain and can replace glucose as its primary fuel.
This is why many people who fast intermittently experience an increase in mental clarity and focus.
Although neuroscientists are still learning about the complexities of fasting, it is already clear that intermittent fasting benefits overall brain health. Thus, if you’re looking for a way to reduce your risk of developing age-related neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, intermittent fasting may be a good choice.
To wrap up:
Intermittent fasting is a type of “fasting diet” that can be a great way to lose weight. It does this by changing the body’s metabolism, which allows you to preserve muscle mass while still burning fat.
As part of an overall healthy lifestyle, intermittent fasting can also help people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease avoid serious health complications. Although neuroscientists are still learning about the complexities of fasting, it is already clear that intermittent fasting benefits overall brain health.
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