Intermittent fasting is good for heart, gut : The Tribune India

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Intermittent fasting is good for heart, gut

The benefits of intermittent fasting include decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and hypertension. Fasting stimulates the body to break down toxic cells and get rid of waste; when you fast, your cells live longer and produce more energy. It reduces inflammation in the body and increases ketone which has been proposed to be a thrifty fuel for the heart; increasing cardiac ketone oxidation can be cardio-protective.

Intermittent fasting is good for heart, gut

ABSTINENCE: Fasting gives the gut time to rest and recover and it maintains the population of good bacteria. ISTOCK



KK Talwar

Former Director, PGIMER

INTERMITTENT fasting is a form of restricted eating that has gained popularity in recent years as an approach to weight loss. What is less known is that there is evidence to suggest that this practice can improve cardiovascular health involving atherosclerosis progression, help lower blood pressure, benefit patients with diabetes mellitus and reduce lipid profile.

The fasting phase brings about intermittent metabolic switching (IMS) — glucose to ketone — while the interruption of the fast brings about reverse switching.

Ketones are known to be helpful for heart health. The benefits of fasting for heart health are now being evaluated in various studies following the recognition of Dr Yoshinori Ohsumi’s work on autophagy for which he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2016. Autophagy, a process by which cells eat themselves, is essential for the destruction and recycling of damaged cell parts. The failure of autophagy is believed to be responsible for ageing and cell damage. Dr Ohsumi used baker’s yeast to identify genes essential for autophagy. He went on to explain the underlying mechanism for autophagy in yeast and showed that similar sophisticated machinery is used in human cells.

Sporadic short-term fasting driven by religious and spiritual beliefs is common to many cultures and has been practised for millennia, but scientific analysis of the consequences of calorie restrictions is more recent. If you consume 2,000 calories on a regular day, you should reduce the number to 500 calories on a fasting day. If you choose to restrict the number of calories you consume, nitric oxide levels in your body will increase — this is a molecule that helps detoxify and rejuvenate the body.

Fasting (vrat) in human culture is a sacred practice. Vrata (fasting) is a Sanskrit word that means vow, resolve and devotion. In ancient India, fasting was used for curative, preventive and health purposes. Of course, in the Hindu religion, fasting is not an obligation but a normal or spiritual act where the aim is to purify the body and mind and acquire divine grace. A Vedic fast is a process in which we try to maintain our mind and body in a satvik state which involves utter devotion and discipline, avoiding Rajasic and Tamasic eating and activities with wilful effort.

The fasting day/days and frequency are usually decided as per personal religious beliefs. During the Navratri, for example, Hindu devotees fast for eight to nine days to please and seek the blessings of Goddess Durga. Eating is limited and certain foods are avoided completely. In Islam, fasting is observed during the month of Ramadan. This involves abstinence from all food and drink, including water, from dawn to sunset, for a month. Food and water may be consumed before sunrise and then after sunset. Other religions, like Christianity, also recognise the spiritual benefits of fasting. While fasting is a practice to learn self-control and forgiveness and express gratitude, our ancestors appear to have understood the health benefits of fasting as well.

Intermittent fasting, which consists of regulated alternating periods of eating and fasting, can help the body cleanse itself. In addition, it helps to lose weight and speed up metabolism.

The benefits of this method for one’s health are numerous and include decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and hypertension. Fasting stimulates the body to break down toxic cells and get rid of all waste; when you fast, your cells live longer and produce more energy. Fasting reduces inflammation in the body and increases ketone which has been proposed to be a thrifty fuel for the heart and increasing cardiac ketone oxidation can be cardio-protective.

Further, the digestive system works constantly to digest food. Continuous eating does not give rest to the body’s digestive mechanisms. The digestive system is crucial to our overall health. An inefficient digestive system accumulates toxins in the body and may make it prone to severe health issues.

Fasting not only gives the gut time to rest and recover, but also improves and maintains the population of good bacteria. Human health is significantly affected by trillions of gut bacteria (microbes). Dysbiosis of gut bacteria causes a variety of metabolic disorders that lead to a chronic inflammatory state in the body which may enhance atherosclerosis along with other risk factors. Thus, abstinence from all or selected foods along with intake of restricted calories for a period of time is a simple method for resting the gut and improving its functioning.

Lifestyle-related cardio-metabolic disorders are characterised by inflammation, damaged metabolism and altered genetics. The cellular response to fasting targets these factors, which means that fasting can prevent, or, at the very least, improve symptoms of chronic diseases. Well-regulated intermittent fasting can be an important part of healthy lifestyle habits that aim to minimise the risk of cardio-metabolic diseases.

Whether fasting blesses you with divine grace or not, it will certainly help your health and heart. The scientific basis for the benefits that fasting has for our overall health is an active area of research and clinical evaluation. We will gradually learn more and more about the health benefits of this practice.


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