It’s not a new concept, but the practice of intermittent fasting (or, “IF”) has been rapidly growing in popularity over the past year. Proponents claim it promotes health benefits, weight loss, and brain health. But, does the research support these claims, and is it right for you?

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Generally speaking, it is the practice of splitting the day or week into “eating periods” and “fasting periods”. The most popular way to apply it involves the 16/8 method, where you fast for 16 hours each day, limiting all food intake into an 8-hour period. Other methods involve limiting caloric intake to 500-600 calories for 2 days per week or fasting entirely for 1-2 days per week.

Why Intermittent Fasting?

The most common reason people try fasting is for weight loss. By reducing the hours spent eating, those following this program tend to consume less calories overall. Research also indicates that short-term fasting can trigger hormonal changes that slightly boost metabolism. The combination of lower calorie intake, and increased energy burn has been shown to promote a 3-8% reduction in body weight, and a 4-7% reduction in waist circumference.

In addition to weight loss, IF may benefit other areas of health as well. Studies have noted improved insulin resistance, reduction in inflammation, cancer risk, and markers of heart disease. In regards to brain health, IF may boost the production of a hormone that supports the growth of new brain cells, and protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You?

Even though there are possible health benefits, intermittent fasting is not right for everyone. For example, some studies have indicated that women may not see the same benefits as men. In fact, it may put them at higher risk for certain health complications like poor blood sugar control, compromised fertility, and hormonal imbalance. Additionally, women should not fast during pregnancy or breastfeeding. People with diabetes, high blood pressure, a history of eating disorders, who are underweight, or take medications should also use caution.

As always, it is wise to check in with your medical provider before trying any new programs like Intermittent Fasting. It is also important to note that while the research is promising, it is still in the early stages. Stay tuned for more on this hot topic down the road!