What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting refers to fasting for 16 hours at a time, or having a caloric reduction on 2 days of the week to around 0-50% of the normal daily requirement. Some advocate fasting for 24 hours.
Doing intermittent fasting tries to replicate the dieting habit of our human ancestors who did not eat three regularly spaced meals a day, interspersed with snacks. Nor did they live a sedentary lifestyle getting fat on Netflix; instead, they were keeping fit trying not to get fed on by a hungry Sabre-tooth tiger.
Can intermittent fasting help with my pain?
The short answer to this is yes, intermittent fasting can help with a variety of pain issues based on studies done on young and middle-aged adults. Whether or not it works for the very young or the elderly remains to be determined. It does this in several ways, namely:
- Weight loss, as a result of reduced caloric intake, leading to less stress on joints and muscles
- Reduced inflammation, which reduces pain in many conditions such as knee osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis
- Pain prevention, by preventing cancer, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease which increases the need and likelihood of surgery
How does intermittent fasting achieve so much benefit for pain and overall health?
Although the exact mechanism is not fully known, scientists have found that the benefit of intermittent fasting is achieved via something called “metabolic switching“. During periods of fasting, fats are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol. The liver then converts the fatty acids into “ketones”. Ketones are used as an energy source during periods of fasting instead of glucose in what is known as “metabolic switching”. Using ketones as an energy source activates a strong signal in the body.
This signal leads to:
- Increased resistance of cells and organs to stress
- Cell growth and plasticity, with structural and functional tissue remodelling
- Increased resilience to disease
What are some other benefits?
- Obesity prevention and weight loss
- Reversal of pre-diabetes and better control of diabetes mellitus
- Prevention of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular risk factors, thus reducing the risk of heart attack and ischemic stroke
- Prevention of some cancers and increased improved response to chemotherapy and radiotherapy in those with cancer cells
- Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and stroke
- Better control of the symptoms of asthma and multiple sclerosis
- Better outcome from surgery and head or spinal cord injury
More detailed information can be found here in an excellent review article on the topic of intermittent fasting that consolidates available research on the topic.
Please consult with a healthcare professional before embarking on intermittent fasting, particularly if you have diabetes, cancer or a heart condition.