Fasting is a hot topic these days, especially intermittent fasting. There are many benefits to fasting, some of which can include weight loss, reduced bloating, gas, abdominal pain and blood sugar regulation. But for those with autoimmune diseases, fasting can also help to reduce inflammation, especially during a flare. The months between October and January also tend to be the worst for those with autoimmune diseases. The cold temperatures, dry air, viral infections and change in dietary habits can all be triggers for autoimmune flares.
So what is intermittent fasting? In general, it is a pattern of eating that creates longer periods of fasting in between the last and first meals of the day. Because humans have evolved to go long periods without eating, it is thought to be a more natural way of eating. During periods of fasting, your metabolism changes, and you are more likely to burn stored fat. You are also more likely to reduce your immune system response during a fast, which can be beneficial for autoimmune diseases.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
The most common intermittent fasting methods are generally either 16/8 or 18/6. This means that you are not eating or drinking anything other than water for 16 to 18 hours of the day. Your period of eating for those fasts would be 8 or 6 hours respectively. For most people, this means that they are generally skipping a meal during the day, usually breakfast. This can be for multiple days in a row, or periodically throughout the week.
For those doing the 16/8 method, a typical eating period would usually be sometime between 11a – 7p with fasting between 7p and 11a. The 18/6 method is a little more strict, and most people doing this one will usually have an eating period later in the afternoon, between 12p – 6p or something similar.
Other methods of intermittent fasting could also involve pulsing full day fasts. This might look like fasting for a 24 hour period, 1-2x a week. Fasting mimicking diets have also become pretty popular. This involves extreme caloric restriction (500-600 calories) for 5 days a month, 1-3 months in a row (more to come on this in a future blog).
Benefits of Fasting
There are many benefits for fasting. The biggest and most commonly studied benefits are for losing weight and reducing insulin resistance. But there are several studies that show reductions in inflammatory markers. This can be antibodies or other inflammatory markers in the blood stream.
Fasting can also help reduce the severity of a flare for those with autoimmune diseases. It helps to reduce potential dietary triggers. It can also help to increase cortisol, which can suppress the immune system during a flare.
There are other benefits to fasting that can include improving cardiovascular, brain and gut health. Fasting though does change blood sugar and can cause aggravation of some symptoms. The most common side effects of fasting are dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, headaches and nausea. It is important that if you plan on doing any form of intermittent fasting that you work with a healthcare provider that knows your particular health concerns.