Intermittent Fasting:
Good for your Hormone Health?

The old adage of “going back to basics” is tried and true for a reason.  Although it’s 2019, our human instruction manuals are thousands of years old.  Naturally, this may mean that some of our current habits don’t always reap the best effects on our overall health.  The good news is with some minor lifestyle adjustments you can help your body do what it knows what best to do. Some promising research has emerged of the many benefits attributed to intermittent fasting, specifically overnight fasting, and improving hormonal balance.  

Humans are designed to maximize activity during daylight and find restoration at night for the best chance of survival.  This primitive drive is called the circadian rhythm. In short, this is our innate body clock that signals the wake and sleep cycle and is largely controlled by hormonal feedback.  The blue light of the sun activates cortisol from the adrenal gland, which helps to power the body to get up and go in the morning. Thyroid-stimulating hormone is also activated during the day to propel activity.  Conversely, as the sun goes down, the absence of light triggers melatonin from the pineal gland which suppresses cortisol and promotes sleep. Meanwhile, prolactin from the pituitary gland initiates the immune system to deeply repair tissues with gentile, targeted inflammation.  We also know that these hormones interact with menstruation and ovulation as part of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis.

 

 

When the body is in balance with circadian rhythm, brain wave connection is improved, gut bacteria is well maintained, hormone production is optimized, and cells are regenerated as needed.  Although the body is very adaptive, hormone response is sensitive, therefore chronic disturbances in the sleep/wake cycle can cause issues such as chronic inflammation, impaired cognition, leaky gut, metabolic dysfunction, and disturbances to the menstrual cycle.   

Just as certain wardrobe options are better suited for the daytime or nighttime, certain biological functions work best during specific periods.  While your body is digesting food at night, it is doing work and therefore this inhibits deep sleep. Also, late night eating leaves very little time to do activities that would burn up caloric energy, which can stall weight loss or contribute to unwanted weight gain.  Intermittent fasting helps further emphasizes the use of energy with food intake during daylight hours and helps to power down the body at night while it should be focused on healing tasks with a 12 hour fast while you sleep. The wonderful part about this solution is that you do the heavy lifting in bed!  Of course, there is even an app designed to help track when to stop and resume eating at the best times.

Taking the benefits of intermittent fasting a bit further, some experts hypothesize that there is a link between PCOS and circadian rhythm disturbances.  Fasting is known to regulate glucose sensitivity and increase the breakdown of fat, which are metabolic obstacles for those with PCOS. When paired with the hormonal balancing benefits of sound circadian rhythm it poses as a potentially promising therapy.  However, more research is needed in order to evaluate the efficacy.

With so many benefits and very little effort, see what a difference overnight fasting can do to power your beauty rest for yourself.  If that sounds like too much of a challenge, try resisting late night snacks or make sure to get a good breakfast in the morning. Still not convinced?  I’d recommend sleeping on it.

REFERENCES:

Shechter A, Boicin D. Sleep, Hormones, and Circadian Rhythms throughout the Menstrual Cycle in Healthy Women and Women with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.  International Journal of Endocrinology Volume 2010, Article ID 259345

Chiofalo B, et al. Fasting as possible complementary approach for polycystic ovary syndrome: Hope or hype? Med Hypotheses. 2017 Aug;105:1-3.