Does fasting really help with inflammation?

Should you try intermittent fasting? Dietitian Chloe McLeod takes a look at the latest research.

Written by Chloe McLeod

You’ve probably heard stories of weight loss involving intermittent fasting. We all know someone who’s tried the '5:2 diet', where calories are severely restricted for two days each week.

There are many purported benefits of fasting, beyond fat reduction, and one common claim is that it helps to reduce inflammation. So what does the evidence say?

Why should we worry about inflammation?

There are a number of factors in our day-to-day lives that can trigger inflammation throughout the body. High stress levels, exposure to cigarette smoke, pollution, and poor sleep patterns can all result in inflammation.

The bigger issue is that many common medical conditions occur alongside inflammatory processes in the body, and can worsen if inflammation is left untreated. By managing systemic inflammation, you can help reduce the risk of developing secondary health conditions.

What is a fasting diet?

Fasting is defined as choosing to abstain from or reduce some or all food, drink, or both, for a set period of time. The most popular fasting diet is the 5:2 diet, where you have a strict maximum intake of 500-600 calories for two days in the week, but no or few restrictions the remaining five days. Another popular method is 16:8, where you fast for 16 hours a day, with an 8 hour window for eating in the afternoon.

Can fasting help inflammation?

A number of studies published in recent years suggest fasting may boost the body’s defences against a range of health issues, including high blood pressure, insulin levels and, yes, inflammation. It’s believed fasting may assist in managing inflammation by:

  • Changing how compounds and proteins interact with each other, inhibiting inflammatory pathways.
  • Reducing inflammatory biomarkers, such as CRP, homocysteine and cholesterol ratios.
  • There’s also a growing body of research supporting the effectiveness of fasting in helping to manage type 2 diabetes, and autoimmune conditions such as MS and rheumatoid arthritis.

However, it's important to remember that this is all still developing research, and further studies are required.

Are there problems with fasting?

Of course there are pros and cons to every lifestyle choice, and people who adopt a fasting-style diet may find themselves vulnerable to increased stress levels, disrupted sleep, headaches, dehydration and heart burn.

Those on intermittent fasting diets must consistently make smart food choices, even on non-fasting days. If fasting results in overeating or poor food habits, it can end up as a binge/restrict cycle – not a good habit to get into!

If you want to try fasting, you should pair it with a healthy overall diet. Chatting with your GP, or consulting an Accredited Practising Dietitian for guidance is a good idea, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.

Written by Chloe McLeod

Chloe McLeod is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Director of The FODMAP Challenge.

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