Your immune system is an extremely hard-working defense mechanism fighting to keep you healthy. It protects you from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins (chemicals produced by microbes). While you are born with an innate immune system, the adaptive immune system is the one that develops over time as your exposure to microbes or toxins changes.
With disease and infection a big part of conversations these days, you may be wondering if there are easy ways to improve your body’s built-in defense mechanism. Today we are exploring ways diet — specifically intermittent fasting — can affect your body’s infection-fighting ability.
While this method of eating has become relatively trendy in recent years, fasting has been around for centuries playing a part in religious and spiritual ceremonies, as well as everyday life for people who, in certain periods of history, did not have consistent access to food.
In its essence, intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that focuses on periods of fasting and eating. The focus is not necessarily on what kinds of food you consume but rather when you consume them. The idea is that IF can not only help aid in weight loss since calorie intake typically decreases but can also improve insulin and hormone levels, which play a major role in health. There are many different types of IF, so we are breaking it down for you today!
While the term is relatively self-explanatory, there’s more to IF than the name implies. Each type of IF involves splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods with each period varying in time. The most popular methods of intermittent fasting are:
- The 16/8 method, which includes an 8-hour eating period, then fasting for 16 hours in between. For example, you may skip breakfast, eat from 1-9 p.m. and fast for the next 16 hours until 1 p.m the following day.
- Eat, stop, eat involves not eating for 24 hours once or twice a week — only water is allowed!
- The 5/2 method entails restricting your caloric intake to only 500-600 calories on two nonconsecutive days of the week.
While this list is non-exhaustive, the primary practice for IF is alternating between calorie restriction and normal eating with the assumption that “normal” eating is consuming a balanced, healthy diet.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
As previously mentioned, one of the primary benefits of IF is weight loss. This occurs as a result of simple caloric restriction and also due to the effect IF has on your insulin and hormone levels, both of which affect weight loss. While we won’t get into too much detail about the effects of IF on insulin levels here, the key takeaway is that eating triggers your pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone that stimulates the production of body fat when produced in excess in response to excess food consumption. By fasting, you are reducing the amount of time you spend in this insulin-secreting state, consequently teaching your body to use other stores of energy, such as body fat.
Does Intermittent Fasting Help Your Immune System?
One of the lesser-known benefits of intermittent fasting is an improved immune system. By now you know that when you fast, the level of insulin in your body decreases. The cool part is that the decreased levels of insulin in your body boosts the rate at which your body can recycle cells — this is known as autophagy. During autophagy, our cells digest and remove excess, dysfunctional cells that are damaged, and regenerate new ones. In essence, fasting actually prompts your body to seek alternative sources of fuel. Damaged cells are broken down into nutrients which in turn decreases inflammation and enables your immune system to spend more energy fighting off bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins.
The Big Takeaway
If you are looking to boost your immune system this cold and flu season, intermittent fasting may be a great option. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be a complete diet or lifestyle change. You can start intermittent fasting with just a 12 hour window of fasting, and increase over time as your body adjusts.
Remember, what you eat when you are not fasting is just as important as the fasting itself! It is essential to plan your meals to include lots of nutrients to quell your hunger and keep you going for long periods of time.
Learn more about our healthy food options and meal plans that can help make your new intermittent fasting routine a breeze!