3 Fasting Diets And How They Affect Immune Function
These days, it seems like there is always some new and exciting type of diet to try. From Atkins to juice cleanses to the keto diet, there are options galore for those who are wishing to reach their goal weight. However, many fad diets have been debunked in the past for being unhealthy, even if they lead to weight loss. Not all types of diet are created equal, and not all are good for the body.
One of the more popular diet trends of late is known as intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is unlike other diets in the sense that it doesn't tell you what you should be eating, but when you should be eating – allotting a certain timeframe each day or throughout the week where you can consume food. There are many different types of fasting diets, each of which can bring about certain benefits for overall health and weight management. But how do fasting diets affect other parts of the body, such as the immune system?
What does fasting do to your immune system?
Research has shown that fasting can benefit the body in many ways. Some studies have found that it can help to prime the immune system, helping it prepare to fight off infection more effectively.
Other studies have shown that there is a connection between the immune system and fasting by way of the production of white blood cells. Research done in 2014 found that when somebody refrains from eating for three days, the amount of white blood cells in the body begins to decrease. This triggers the immune system to begin making new white blood cells to make up for the decrease. Following the three-day fast, eating can then jumpstart your body in an effort to replenish the cells. White blood cells are vital to the immune system, and this is why fasting is thought to help ward off infection in some cases.
The caveat to this study, however, was that people refrained from food for three whole days, so it's thought that depleting the energy reserves in the body completely is what drives the immune response. This means that the types of intermittent fasting diets that are all the rage right now may not pose the same benefits.
Does not eating affect your immune system?
The immune system requires certain nutrients for to run optimally, or else it can begin to falter. Essentially, a lack of nutrients ends up hurting the production of immune cells and antibodies, which can then lead to a weakened immune response.
In intermittent fasting, although people refrain from eating for a certain time, they may still be getting all the nutrients they need if they are eating the right foods during their food consumption window. If they are eating foods that are low in nutrients or have excessive sugars, the diet will not help the immune system – in fact, it could actively hinder it.
Types of fasting diets
There are many different types of fasting diets. No one diet will work for everyone who tries it. When it comes to fasting and immunity, it can be hard to determine what type of fasting diet will be most effective at helping to boost the immune system, but we’ll be covering three fasting diets below to give you an idea of what might suit you.
1. The 16/8 method
The 16/8 fasting method works by restricting your eating window to eight hours a day. During those eight hours, you can eat as much as you want, but for the remaining 16 hours, you can't eat anything. During the fasting hours, you can continue to drink water and other zero-calorie beverages. Some studies have shown that this fasting method can reduce inflammation throughout the body, and also act as a protector when it comes to some parts of the immune response.
2. The 5:2 method
The 5:2 method involves eating normally for five days of the week, then eating only 500 to 600 calories for the remaining two days. There is a lack of research surrounding this type of diet, so it is uncertain whether or not it provides a lot of benefits. One study does suggest that lowering energy reserves to 500 to 600 calories a day can help to protect the body against infection; however, this study tested mice subjects and restricted their calories for a week as opposed to just two days per week.
3. Alternate day fasting
The alternate day fasting method involves refraining from food every other day. In some versions of this method, 500 calories can be consumed on a fasting day. However, this type of diet is thought to be unsustainable because of how often a person feels hungry throughout their week.
When it comes to alternate day intermittent fasting and the immune system, some research shows that inflammatory markers in the body were improved for those who participated in the diet. Since inflammatory markers are tasked with detecting inflammation in the body that could be the result of a disease, it follows that the diet may help with immune function.
Fasting diets have been proven to provide several health benefits, one of which is an improvement in immune function – but they are not for everybody. If you are thinking about trying a fasting diet, it’s important that you speak with your doctor first to ensure that it’s safe for you.