Intermittent fasting diets: healthy or risky?

From the United States to old Europe and Asia, there is now only one voice circulating about how to lose weight effectively, sustainably and healthily. Hollywood stars, athletes and singers have chosen this diet without being disappointed and, for once, the scientific community also approves, with reserve, the results obtained.

It’s the intermittent fasting diet, which seems to give excellent results from both an aesthetic and health point of view. “Aesthetic” was born in contemporary society, but voluntary fasting is a practice as old as mankind. Every culture, in every part of the world, has in its foundations some reference to spending a certain amount of time under voluntary food deprivation.

It was common practice among Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Chinese, Celts, Gauls and pre-Columbian civilizations. They would do it for religious, punitive or expiative reasons but also, and this may come as a surprise to you, for curative purposes.

It is a common precept to all the main religions and it has always been associated with the purification of the body and the soul. Advised and promoted in different periods of the year. Lent for Christians, Ramadan's month for Muslims, the spiritual fasting of Hindus and Buddhists, are all practices considered healthy for both body and mind.
In short, mankind has always attributed beneficial connotations to fasting and, thanks to various scientific studies, it has now become possible decode its healthy use from all points of view.
Body reactions to fasting
The benefits of prolonged fasting are manifold and proven. By being deprived of food but not liquids for a long time, the body reacts by raising its immune system, removing toxins, reducing stress levels and, of course, decreasing fat mass and affecting lean body mass only later on. In other words, initially you will burn fat and not muscles.

Strictly speaking, it’s as if the body understands that a difficult period is about to come and prepares itself at its best to face it, purifying and strengthening itself. In the end, if a man lost in nature had found himself without food for a couple of days and had immediately weakened, how would he have survived? How could he have survived winter or a period of famine or even a simple unsuccessful hunt?

Recent studies, however, have shown that fasting can be used to fight persistent inflammatory states and if practiced with awareness and knowledge of the facts, can lead to a substantial increase in life expectancy.

This is because the body assimilates food nutrients more quickly and more effectively when taken and can generate new neuronal cells if fasting lasts longer than 24 hours.

But be careful, all of this can work only if properly controlled, with the help of professionals: improvising is never a good idea.

How to deal with an intermittent fasting diet

Intermittent fasting or intermittent energy restriction is a dietary approach based on alternating fasting with "conventional" feeding days.

There are several protocols: for example, some provide for 5 days of fasting per month, others 2 a week and others suggest alternating low calorie days (those in which the load of calories is reduced by 70%) with those of normal calorie intake. Others suggest an 18-hour daily fast with only 6 hours in which eating is allowed, consuming a normal number of calories.

Fasting: the expert eye
For the sake of clarity, we asked Dr. Ornella D'Alessio, a biologist nutritionist who works between Milan and Rome, who explained that:

Several studies have shown that a calorie restriction can prolong life by up to 11%, encourage healthy ageing, reduce the incidence of cancer and of bone demineralisation. It also strengthens the immune system, increases the number of stem and progenitor cells in different organs. In fact, it encourages survival.

After careful analysis, Dr. D'Alessio also pointed out the risks that can result from this diet in certain individuals or in those who do not follow the advice of a doctor:

"Everyone can embark on intermittent fasting except pregnant and nursing women, children, people with eating disorders, and people with a medical condition who are not supervised by a physician. For example: In diabetics, fasting can increase cortisol levels. One of the effects of cortisol is that it increases blood sugar levels. So in some people with adjustment problems in blood sugar levels, fasting can make things worse. In addition - continues the doctor - in case of extended fasting in addition to the recommended days, the risk is to promote a loss of muscle mass and risk hypoglycemia and hypotension."

Therefore, an intermittent fasting diet is a great way to keep healthy and lose weight but, as we have seen, it may also be useful for those who suffer from other types of problems, for those who fall ill often, or who suffer from stress. So why not try it? Obviously always under the watchful eye of a professional.

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