How intermittent fasting works, and how it affects your health

Fasting can be beneficial, but here's what you need to know.

Intermittent fasting involves skipping meals or restricting when you eat to a limited period of time.

New research suggests doing so can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and resting heart rate. But it’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds.

“We all fast when we go to bed at night, right? And so breakfast, or break the fast, is when we break the fast from the last meal in the evening to the first meal in the morning. But with intermittent fasting, a lot of people are moving toward patterns where they’re doing what we call a 20:4 or 16:8, and what that means is that they’re not eating for 20 hours or 16 hours, and they’re combining all their eating in that short period of time,” said Dr. Andrew m. Freeman, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health.

Dr. Freeman said you can defeat the purpose of intermittent fasting if you’re not careful.

“For the people that are willing and have the willpower that can do intermittent fasting, I’m all for it. But it’s important also that when you do intermittent fasting to not gorge yourself in those four hours or eight hours or six hours, whatever it may be, so really plan your meals appropriately, so that when it is time to eat you’re eating well,” he said.

A study published last year found fasting at least once a month over several decades was linked with a longer life and a lower incidence of heart failure in heart patients. There are also benefits directly related to losing weight.

“When the weight goes down blood pressure gets better, diabetes can often go into remission, blood pressure normalizes and people feel more energetic,” said Freeman.

Ultimately, it may be one tool to help improve your health.

“It makes one very cognizant of what they’re eating, which is a huge plus in the american society. And more, it makes it harder to consume as many calories because the time to consume then is less,” said Freeman.

Intermittent fasting is not considered safe for people with certain health problems, including those on medication for diabetes, anyone with a history of an eating disorder, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The jury is still out on whether intermittent fasting is better than eating a healthy diet throughout the day. In fact, there is conflicting research that finds skipping breakfast raises your risk of dying of heart disease.

If you do want to give it a try, talk to your doctor and make sure you’re doing it in a healthy way.

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.