So, is fasting a good idea or not?

By Professor David Russell and Charlotte Harbour, registered nutritional therapist

Many of us will be familiar with fasting in its various forms – whether that’s intermittent fasting we’ve learnt about from friends or the media, religious fasting such as Ramadan, or medical fasting the morning of surgery.

Fasting is, without doubt, one of the most controversial and complex concepts within the world of health and nutrition.

It is relatively simple to find a strong advocate of fasting – someone who may state it “heals” all health ailments and can support weight loss at cosmic speeds.

Equally, you don’t have to look far to find a strong opponent of fasting – someone who may state it promotes unhealthy eating patterns and is a dangerous and irresponsible practice.

So, where do we go from here? Is fasting good or… not?

Well, as is always the case in health and nutrition, it depends. When it comes to health-based fasting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Firstly, let’s look at a few positives of fasting:

● Fasting increases cognitive efficiency through the release of ketone bodies (produced when the body utilises fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates)
● Fasting increases the levels of antioxidants in the body and turns on a process known as autophagy, where the body essentially ‘cleans out’ unnecessary or dysfunctional cells
● Prolonged fasting is known to be an efficient therapy to manage metabolic disorders such as obesity, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis
● Fasting can lower inflammatory markers in the body.

A few drawbacks as follows:

● Fasting is not suitable for everyone, especially those who have had or currently had an eating disorder, pregnant or breastfeeding women, infants and children. Similarly, those with chronic diseases (especially diabetes or hypoglycaemia) must always work with a doctor to ascertain whether fasting is suitable for them
● As above, fasting may be triggering to those with a history of eating disorders as some forms do limit calories and others can be seen to ‘starve’ the body, especially prolonged fasting, which can be a week in some cases – this needs careful and sensitive consideration
● Fasting may not be as beneficial to women as it is for men, due to women’s hormonal fluctuations and fertility cycle.

This very small insight into fasting shows us that this area is neither black nor white, but shades of grey. If you’d like some further information on this, do get in touch on LinkedIn – we’d love to chat:

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