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  • Writer's pictureShruti GOCHHWAL

The Pros And Cons Of Intermittent Fasting For Pain Management

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent Fasting involves a fast which is “intermittent”. In most intermittent fasting diet regimes, you have a smaller time window when you can only eat usually fewer than 8 hours, and you fast for the remaining day. These fasts are longer than a typical overnight fast, and range from 16 hours to a maximum of 1.5 days.

Intermittent Fasting was introduced as a more accessible diet. In Intermittent Fasting, you are restricting food intake, but only on certain days. On other days you would have the freedom to eat and meet energy requirements. This diet is a more flexible approach to dieting.

Types of Intermittent Fasting

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Intermittent Fasting is seen as an umbrella term, because there are a variety of types of fasting. This also makes it difficult to study Intermittent Fasting because it’s harder to compare diets when they are executed in different ways.

The most popular Intermittent Fasting programs include: Alternate-day fasting, Whole-day fasting and Time-restricted feeding.

1. Alternate-Day Fasting

This type is the most-studied form of Intermittent Fasting. This requires alternating between feeding and fasting days. On a typical fasting day, there is 1 meal at lunch that consists of approximately 25% of caloric needs based on the individual. This form of fasting involves modified fasting. This has different durations/periods of fasting from anywhere between 30-40 hours based upon the individual’s schedule.

2. Whole-Day Fasting

In comparison to alternate-day fasting, this kind of fasting may seem more stricter – 1 to 2 days per week, you need to either severely restrict your calories or completely abstain from food. This is also called the “5:2 diet”. The 5 represents the number of days you eat normally. The 2 represents the number of non-consecutive days you have to restrict calorie consumption to 25% (500-600 calories) of your total daily energy expenditure calories.

3. Time-Restricted Feeding

This is the most lenient type of Intermittent Fasting that requires you to fast for a specific number of hours each day. A very popular form of this time-restricted feeding program consists of an under-eating phase. This phase lasts for 20 hours, followed by an overeating phase lasting for 4 hours that takes place every 24-hour period.

However, it’s important to consider both the PROS and CONS of Intermittent Fasting.

Pros of Intermittent Fasting

1. Promoting Health & Weight Loss

intermittent fasting

a woman with weighing machine, Credits: pexels

Many human studies have found that alternate-day and whole-day Intermittent Fasting has been associated with a significant decrease in body weight, body fat, and waist circumference both short and long term.

In a more recent 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis, weekly Intermittent Fasting interventions were just as effective as Continuous Energy Restriction for weight loss. This proved that it was not necessary to starve yourself every single day. With a more flexible diet like Intermittent Fasting, you could yield the same weight loss results. However, many of these studies are short term so the long term effects are unclear.

2. Reduces Fat Free Mass

exercising equipment, Credits: foter

Diets that continually restrict calories, reduce body fat, but also Fat Free Mass (FFM). Fat Free Mass is basically everything other than fat. This means you are losing lean muscle mass. However, studies have proved that with sufficient protein intake and resistance training, Intermittent Fasting may help to retain lose fat mass while retaining more of their lean mass compared to daily calorie restriction-type of diets. However, long-term studies have not been conducted on this.

3. No Calorie Restriction and No Change in Diet

intermittent fasting

a plate of food, Credits: pexels

You can still eat the same number of daily calories and don’t have to take away or change the actual foods you eat. However, we believe you would getmuch better results with a whole-food, well-balanced diet from each of the 4 food groups.

4. It is easy to follow

This eating pattern is easily implemented and for those who like routine, it can be adhered to fairly easily. For some people, it may be easy to incorporate into your current routine.

5. Larger Portions in a Shorter Period of Time

intermittent fasting

a plate of food, Credits: pexels

Some people may like this part a lot because you get to consume more food at once. This would leave you more full and satisfied. In a way, Intermittent Fasting can actually prevent you from the typical binge on food.

6. Has many health benefits

intermittent fasting

health benefits of intermittent fasting, Credits: pexels

Many studies have claimed that Intermittent Fasting diets that involve prolonging this fasted state have numerous health benefits such as improving glucose homeostasis, boosting energy, reducing inflammation decreasing oxidative stress, lowering triglyceride levels and blood pressure, increasing and protecting brain function, increasing resistance to age-related diseases like immune disorders, cancer, heart disease, stroke, eye disease, Alzheimer’s and promoting longevity.

Cons of Intermittent Fasting:

1. Interference with the Social Aspect of Eating

intermittent fasting

people eating in a restaurant, Credits: pexels

Eating is very much a social activity. Because of the shortened time frame you have for eating, it can be difficult for you in social gatherings where everyone else is eating and sipping on beverages.

2. Can Get Hungry, Low in Energy & Unproductive

intermittent fasting

a hungry person, Credits: pexels

In a 2016 systematic review, a few studies found that some Intermittent Fasting participants experienced minor adverse physical ailments including: feeling cold, constipation, headaches, lack of energy, bad temper and lack of concentration.

However, in a 2017 review, a 12-week trial found that Intermittent Fasting did not appear to limit an individual’s ability to exercise. Again, this was a short term study, so whether you can maintain your exercise habits on Intermittent Fasting is still unclear.

3. Tendency to binge

intermittent fasting

a woman eating food, Credits: pexels

Some people may take the Feasting periods as an opportunity to eat more calories than they really need. When you’re hungry, or you anticipate a period of fasting coming up, it can be very tempting to go binge on food. If the fasting element in Intermittent Fasting were to create some sort of caloric deficit, it’s very possible that the feasting period easily undo it.

4. Digestion Issues

intermittent fasting

digestion, Credits: pexels

Some of us may experience digestion problems when they eat large amounts of food in a short amount of time. Larger volumes of foodrequires more time for digestion, leading to additional stress on your GI tract, indigestion, and bloating. This can have huge implications for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Therefore, they are more susceptible to cramping, abdominal pain and bloating. Hence, people with digestive issues are recommended to eat at regular times, take time when eating, and not skip meals in order to have regular bowel functions.

5. No Difference in Results of Calorie Restriction

intermittent fasting

calorie restriction, Credits: foter

Other studies have found no huge difference between continuous calorie restriction and fasting. Many of the recent reviews have not found that one strategy is better than the other, and at the end of the day both yield short term weight loss. It is also difficult to compare these strategies because of the different study methodologies and study duration. Hence, we need more long term research.

6. Potential Long-Term Health Consequences

intermittent fasting

health consequences of intermittent fasting, Credits: foter

Since IF excessively restricts energy and protein, there’s a real risk of nutrient deficiencies, electrolyte abnormalities, and fertility and reproductive issues in women.

In a 2017 review, a study involving normal weight, normal cycling women found that three consecutive days of a total fast during the mid-follicular phases affected the luteinising hormone. However, it did not interfere with follicle development or menstrual cycle length.

Another study in this review found that obese and overweight women reported longer average menstrual cycle length following Intermittent Fasting for six months compared to the continuous energy restriction group. Researchers from this study discussed the need for further study especially which include longer periods of energy restriction.

Who Shouldn’t Try Intermittent Fasting?

intermittent fasting

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Everyone should consult a healthcare professional before beginning intermittent fasting. However, it’s especially important for the following people:

  1. Pregnant Women

  2. Anyone with a history of eating disorders

  3. People with diabetes

  4. Someone new to healthy eating & exercise

  5. Anyone trying to gain weight

How Intermittent Fasting helps Pain?

intermittent fasting

a man in pain, Credits: pexels

A number of mechanisms point to the healing effects of fasting, including fasting-induced neuroendocrine activation and hormetic stress response, an increase in the production of neurotrophic factors, reduced mitochondrial oxidative stress, a reduction of signals associated with aging, and increased autophagy (57).  The anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, anti-nociceptive effects of fasting and caloric restriction have been well documented (58).

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Research has demonstrated that medically supervised modified fasting (200-500 kcal per day) for periods between 7-21 days is beneficial for treating rheumatic diseases and chronic pain syndromes. Randomized controlled studies have shown that fasting, followed by a vegetarian diet, reduced pain in patients suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis


Those with both Rheumatoid Arthritis and fibromyalgia report that fasting and skipping meals helps alleviate their symptoms. A study of patients with fibromyalgia who fasted experienced a greater improvement than non-fasters.


Patients with moderate osteoarthritis found symptomatic relief with fasting therapy that included three pre-fast days, eight fasting days (300 kcal per day) and then four re-feed days (62).

Nerve Degeneration

Current research is exploring the effects of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting on age-related nerve degeneration. Animal models show intermittent fasting alleviates neuropathy and improves the quality of the protective myelin proteins around the nerves (63).

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