Can Intermittent Fasting Cure Your Pain?

Intermittent Fasting

Back in my day, breakfast was the most important meal of the day.  But nowadays, holding back on food until after noon is touted as the way to healthy living.

Which is not unfounded.

There is a good amount of evidence that shows that consolidating eating to a defined window (like only eating from 12 pm to 6 pm) can have many health benefits.  It’s a thing known as intermittent fasting.

Research shows that it helps in weight loss for some (ref) and to decrease the risk of developing other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes (ref).

But what about a cure for your joint pain?

Purely from the weight loss perspective, if intermittent fasting helps you lose some extra body fat, it will clearly be beneficial for joint health.

A 2005 study in Arthritis and Rheumatism showed that one pound of weight loss decreased the load on the knees of each step by 4lbs. So drop another ten pounds, and extrapolate that by thousands of steps, and you’re taking a ton of stress off your achy knees.

But, is there something deeper?

In a recent interview, Rich Froning, the 4x fittest man on earth, mentioned that he’s started intermittent fasting, which has helped with this knee pain. Assuming that weight loss wasn’t a factor in this, it brings up the question of other mechanisms that may occur with short term fasting that can decrease joint pain.

Regulating Your Blood Sugar

As we have talked about before, pain is a perception of the brain.  It’s put together based on sensory input, just as smell, sight, or taste.

The immune system is responsible for relaying some of that sensory input to the brain through chemical markers called cytokines. Cytokines are essentially systemic chemical messengers that tell the immune system where to go and what to do.

The brain becomes more alert when it picks up on these stimuli like a security guard that has been alerted to some mysterious behavior.  It then approaches things cautiously by heightening the “pain perception.” (ref)

There is no shortage of lists from health and fitness gurus touting inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods.  Navigating this would lead to a long article along with some questionable science. But we can conclude that certain people don’t tolerate certain foods very well which leads to inflammation.

But studies also show that food itself can be inflammatory when they increase blood glucose (ref), which happens predominantly by consuming high-carb foods.  

By eating in a small window, it tends to consolidate calories into a couple of larger meals. So rather than a day-long stream of elevated blood glucose that happens with snacking and regular meals, there are just a couple of big bumps throughout the day. Additionally, it helps to better regulate insulin, a hormone responsible for processing glucose and has anti-inflammatory properties (ref).

Therefore, fasting may help suppress inflammation, by improving the regulation of blood sugar.

This is certainly relevant to us mere mortals, but in the same interview, he also referenced his 6-hour training days.  Which is actually now lighter since he made the move to the team competition.

Not saying that a guy like Rich couldn’t optimize his metabolism and thereby suppress inflammation with diet, but a pro-athlete training full time like him is probably clearing blood glucose remarkably well.

So he’s not hanging around with elevated blood sugar levels as we would after putting back a few donuts on the way to work.

So maybe something else is at work?

Ketones

There is already another article in the queue here, as the Keto Diet is another health craze, which might actually have some pain fighting power as well.

But in brief, ketosis is a state in which the body runs primarily off of fat metabolism when carbohydrate stores are limited.

While true ketosis would require extended time in fasting (24 to 48 hours), or weeks on an extremely low carb diet, short periods of fasting (12 to 16 hours) do show elevated levels of ketones, especially for someone who has become accustomed to it.

Ketone metabolism is proven to have anti-inflammatory effects by reducing the production of reactive oxygen species and inhibiting the cellular production inflammatory mediators (ref).

Thus, short term fasting may have further benefits for reducing system levels of inflammation through ketone metabolism.

If Rich is Doing It…

So to answer the question posed in the title…

Intermittent fasting is not going to cure your joint pain, but there is a chance that it may help. Especially if you are overweight, or pre-diabetic, intermittent fasting shows some promising results for helping to reduce weight and improving glucose regulation.  But to be fair, it may be no better or more successful than simply cutting calories than the good ‘of fashion way of dieting (ref).

And things like this are the cornerstone of most click-bait. Take a nuance of a very successful person’s program, and tout it as the secret to fill in the blank problem, while ignoring many other major factors.

Yet there is scientific evidence to show that it can help reduce systemic inflammation.  So give it a try if you’ve been dealing with a chronic pain issue and see how it helps.

Although skipping breakfast is going to have little success if it’s up against overuse and not paired with a progressive strengthening program like Crossover Symmetry.

So first work on fixing the underlying problems of your pain and use adjuncts like intermittent fasting (especially since it’s cheap and easy) as a way to help support it.

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