Dr. Amy Shah is a double board certified M.D. and one of mbg’s favorite holistic health experts. With training from Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard, she helps her patients get to the root cause of illness. This week, we’re sharing Dr. Shah’s approach to taming inflammation for optimal health and well-being. To learn more, check out her mindbodygreen class The Ultimate Guide To Inflammation.
Intermittent fasting is one of my favorite multitasking tools to help you fight inflammation, improve digestion, and boost your longevity. Our bodies are actually designed for periods without food, and chances are that our foraging ancestors weren't eating three organized meals each day or grazing on snacks all afternoon. Just as you and I need sleep to reset and revitalize, so does our digestive tract and organs. Studies have indicated that periods of intermittent fasting result in the following anti-inflammatory responses:
1. Positive changes in the overall composition of gut microbiota
2. Reduction of insulin resistance
3. Increased immune response in cells
4. Production of a compound (β-hydroxybutrate) that blocks part of the immune system involved in inflammatory disorders like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or Alzheimer's disease
4. Significant reduction of inflammatory markers (cytokines, C-reactive protein)
Why should you try intermittent fasting?
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a fasting period of 12 to 16 hours daily—or a few days a week—where nothing but water and low- or no-calorie beverages are consumed. Skipping a meal can do it, or you can simply limit your eating times to a shorter window. I recommend the latter. For example, you would eat your meals between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. or 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Intermittent fasting can be hard on you if you're new to it or if you jump in too quickly. Women especially can suffer from adverse hormonal effects including ravaging hunger, altered menstrual cycles, and mood changes. My unique take for my super-busy patients is to do a modified crescendo-style fasting—a modified fast two or three nonconsecutive days a week. My experience is that patients get a lot more benefit without accidentally throwing their hormones into a frenzy.
Here's how it works:
1. Fast two or three nonconsecutive days per week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, for example).
2. On fasting days do yoga, strength training, or light cardio.
3. Ideally, fast for 12 to 16 hours.
4. Eat normally on your high-cardio and intense workout days.
5. Drink plenty of water. Tea and coffee are OK too (but no milk and no sweetener).
6. After two weeks you can add one more day of fasting.
7. Optional: Consider taking 5 to 8 grams of BCAAs during your fast. A branched-chain amino-acid supplement has few calories but provides fuel to muscles. This can take the edge off hunger and fatigue.
Start out slowly, fasting for just 12 hours two or three days a week. When you master that, extend the fast. You may notice an increase in energy, stamina, and cognition. At the very least, you're taking action toward overall health and longevity by making a simple tweak to your lifestyle.