The intermittent fasting is the latest craze in the world of health and fitness that offers many health benefits. Studies show that intermittent fasting, which has been practiced for thousands of years, has the potential to prevent and reverse chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and asthma. And not only that, it is a tool that helps to control autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and others.
Intermittent fasting can be a means of supporting a healthy gut. It even shows significant promise for improving autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a general term for eating patterns that circulate between periods of eating and not eating. There are many different methods of intermittent fasting, with periods of fasting lasting from 12 hours to three weeks.
The most common intermittent fasting methods, however, are shorter. They generally involve daily 16-hour fasts or 24-hour fasts once or twice a week. For example, during a daily fast, you would designate an 8-hour “eating window”, where you would only eat between 12 pm and 8 pm.
Fasting has a long history in cultures around the world. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors couldn’t always find food to eat, so our bodies adapted to function for long periods of time without eating.
Only recently has the scientific community begun to investigate the various health applications of intermittent fasting, with studies showing the potential of fasting to reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, optimize energy metabolism, and increase cellular protection.
Benefits of intermittent fasting
While many people use intermittent fasting to lose weight, its benefits extend well beyond maintaining a healthy weight, including:
- Relief of symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Changes in gene expression related to longevity and protection against disease.
- Reduction of oxidative damage and inflammation.
- Reduced seizures and seizure-related brain damage.
- Improved insulin sensitivity.
- Cancer protection.
- Cardio protective benefits, including reduction of hypertension and obesity.
- Delayed aging.
- Increased levels of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) for fat loss and muscle gain.
- Cell repair (autophagy).
As you can see, intermittent fasting has a long list of health applications that have been shown in human and animal studies.
Why intermittent fasting is beneficial for autoimmunity
Studies have shown the potential benefits of intermittent fasting for rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, mixed connective tissue disease (a combination of lupus, scleroderma, and polymyositis), and multiple sclerosis.
When you fast for an extended period of time, your body has a chance to rest and recover, since it is not busy digesting food or defending itself against inflammatory agents in food.
This resting state can be especially helpful in taming autoimmunity for a number of reasons.
Repair a troubled gut
Intermittent fasting has a profound effect on intestinal barrier function. It reduces intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, the precursor to all autoimmune disorders. By “sealing the leaks” in the lining of the lining of the intestines, it can mitigate autoimmunity symptoms that are triggered by environmental factors such as undigested food particles, microbes, and toxins.
“Autophagy” is a term derived from the Greek words that literally means “self eating.” Fasting induces autophagy, which is essentially your body’s cleaning equipment, breaking down damaged cells, dead cells, debris, and beta amyloid plaques (which are implicated in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis), by time that encourages the new growth of healthy cells.
Autophagy also increases your body’s ability to resist internal stressors that can exacerbate autoimmune conditions, such as pathogens or infections.
Reduces inflammation and pro-inflammatory cytokines
Inflammation is at the root of almost all chronic diseases, including autoimmune diseases. The more inflammation you have, the higher you’ll fall on the autoimmune spectrum, which will inevitably lead to a full-blown autoimmunity diagnosis if you don’t take steps to reduce your inflammation.
Fortunately, intermittent fasting is shown to reduce levels of systemic inflammation and pro-inflammatory cytokines, cell signaling molecules that worsen disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients experienced less joint pain and inflammation when they followed a fasting diet.
Intermittent fasting also significantly reduces leptin, a type of pro-inflammatory cytokine that is elevated in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis.
Improves the immune response and stress
Research shows that intermittent fasting can support a balanced immune response by suppressing autoimmune reactions. This may be due in part to the fact that, while fasting, you are not ingesting proteins that contribute to inflammation, allergic responses, or other immune reactions caused by certain foods (as in the case of food sensitivities).
It can also help modulate your body’s stress response, which is important since stress is a major trigger for autoimmunity.
Intermittent fasting initiates cytogenesis, the production of ketone bodies that occurs during a metabolic state known as ketosis. This is when your body burns stored fat for fuel instead of glucose.
You’ve probably heard of the “ketogenic” diet, in which people drastically reduce carbohydrate intake to mimic a state of hunger and induce ketosis for weight loss, increased energy, and other health benefits.
Ketogenic diets have long been used to treat epilepsy patients. Possible benefits for autoimmunity are now also being explored.
Ketosis not only helps modulate your body’s immune response, it also increases your glutathione levels. Glutathione, the body’s most powerful detoxifier, is notoriously low in patients with autoimmune disorders.
Before you try intermittent fasting, know this
Although intermittent fasting has many potential benefits for autoimmunity and other chronic diseases, it is not for everyone. Whether or not you should try intermittent fasting depends on several factors.
If you are a woman or dealing with hormonal imbalances, thyroid problems, or adrenal fatigue, intermittent fasting may not be the best option for you.
Fasting can throw your hormones out of balance and disrupt your menstrual cycle and sleep patterns, resulting in amenorrhea and insomnia.
This is why women, particularly those with a slim body type, should be careful when attempting this fast because our bodies are much more sensitive to hunger signals than men.
This is especially true if you already have hormonal imbalances or are in perimenopause.
You should also be careful if you have thyroid dysfunction or adrenal fatigue. Ketosis brought on by fasting is a major strain on your adrenal glands, which are already out of control if you have one of these conditions.
The added stress of a fast can exacerbate thyroid disorders and chronic fatigue. This is especially true if you are already under a great deal of stress in your daily life.
If you are a woman with autoimmunity or have any of the above conditions, be sure to start slowly. Maybe you’re trying to push breakfast until 11 a.m. instead of eating right when you wake up.
See how your body reacts to this “mini-fast” and whether or not you can tolerate a longer or more frequent fast. Another option would be to make a “quick bone broth.” During this fast, you don’t eat solid foods, yet you still supply your body with nutrients to balance your hormones with a nutritious bone broth.
Support your gut
Intermittent fasting reduces intestinal permeability by limiting the amount of toxic and inflammatory foods you eat. “Sealing the leaks” in the intestinal lining is an important step in addressing the root cause of autoimmune diseases and chronic diseases.
When it comes to intermittent fasting, your best bet is to listen to your body and find what works for you. Intermittent fasting can be very beneficial for autoimmunity and other chronic diseases. However, if you don’t react well to a long fast, don’t be discouraged.
There are many other ways to balance blood sugar, achieve optimal weight, and reduce risk of disease.