Intermittent Fasting: The Science and Benefits to Africans


By Mosope Ososanya. Freelance Health Writer and DLHA volunteer. With medical review and editorial support by the DLHA Team

Some examples of time-restricted practice of Intermittent fasting

Some examples of time-restricted practice of Intermittent fasting.




  • Intermittent fasting involves going on a particular period without food. Several Africans fast for different reasons, including weight loss, religious purposes, etc.
  • Several studies have shown that intermittent fasting has health benefits.
  • Weight loss is one of the several benefits of intermittent fasting. Fasting may also benefit the heart and brain health. It is helpful in cancer prevention and treatment, controlling blood pressure and obesity, and may even enhance longevity.
  • The health benefits of fasting can be maximised by practising it in the safest way. 
  • Fasting may not be safe for pregnant women, nursing mothers, people with chronic health conditions, underweight or malnourished individuals, etc




As much as healthy food is essential for growth and well-being, abstaining from food can also benefit health.


Fasting is a common practice among Africans. Several Africans fast for different reasons, including weight loss, religious purposes, etc


Intermittent Fasting is the most practised type of fasting among Africans. Intermittent Fasting involves going on for a particular period of the day without food. Several studies have shown that intermittent Fasting can impact health in profound ways (1,2). Fasting can help the brain, the heart, the blood sugar, and the entire well-being.


This article explains the benefits of intermittent fasting and the science behind them and how to maximise these benefits safely. 


Methods of Intermittent Fasting


Intermittent Fasting can be done in several ways depending on personal preference and health status. Some common methods of intermittent fasting include:


  • Time-restricted eating 


This requires a person to fast for specific hours during the day. It may be a 12-hour fast or the lean-gain diet (16:8 diet), where a person fasts for 16 hours with an 8-hour eating window


During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dusk till dawn. This is a time-restricted intermittent fasting method. Workers and students on low budget also practice time-restricted intermittent fasting.


  • 2-day fast 


This method involves reducing your calorie intake twice a week and eating normally during the remaining five days. It is often called the 5:2 diet.


  • 24-hour fast 


A person abstains from food totally for a whole day. It is also called the “eat-stop-eat-diet.” The person can take low-calorie fluids like water during this method of fasting. 


  • Alternate day fast 


This method of fasting is done every other day. The person usually alternates between periods of eating and fasting. Typically, it involves eating normally on one day and then significantly reducing calorie intake or fasting on the next day.


  • The Warrior diet 


This is a 20-hour fast with a 4-hour eating window, where the person takes only fruits and vegetables during the fast. The warrior diet is usually long-term and should be practised after consulting a health professional.


Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting and their Scientific Basis


Fasting is the body's self-cleansing method. It puts the body in a factory reset mode as it were. During a fast, the body has a longer time to repair Itself.


Here are some health benefits of fasting

1. Boosted Metabolism and Higher Energy Levels


Fasting boosts metabolism. When a person fasts, glucose, which is the body's source of energy, drops. Low glucose level causes fat cells to release fat, which is converted to ketone by the liver; the body now uses ketone as its energy source instead of glucose.


Fasting may have a positive impact on one's energy levels (3,4). While some people may initially experience a reduced energy level, others have reported feeling increased energy levels.


Increased energy level happens when the person adapts to fasting, and the body utilises stored energy (ketone) properly.


Increased energy levels can also result from a reduction in ghrelin hormone. Ghrelin is often referred to as the hunger hormone. At the start of a fast, the ghrelin level increases, this explains the feeling of intense hunger when you fast. However, when you fast for a longer time, the body adapts, and the ghrelin level decreases and suppresses appetite, making it easier to fast for more extended periods. The person usually experiences increased energy levels accompanied by mental clarity and improved focus during fasting.


However, it is essential to recognize that ghrelin levels may fluctuate during fasting, and individual responses to fasting may differ and depend on factors like hydration, sleep quality, and overall health status.


2. Improving Brain Health


Studies have shown that fasting may improve cognitive function and brain health. (5)


Although studies on human samples are limited in showing the relationship between fasting and brain function, several animal studies have shown that fasting reduces the risk of certain neurological diseases, including dementia, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and stroke. (6,7)


Fasting causes a metabolic switch and makes ketone the primary source of energy. An animal study found that ketone helps produce Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a chemical that creates new brain cells. It also helps in memory and cognitive performance and protects the cells from oxidative stress. (8)


A 2013 study on mice suggests that intermittent fasting aids better learning and memory compared to feeding on a high-fat diet or a regular diet. (5)


Another 2023 study suggests that calorie-restricted fasting is associated with reduced accumulation of beta-amyloid, a key indicator of Alzheimer's disease. The study also showed that fasting changes connections between brain cells in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory and learning, leading to improved cognitive function. (9)


3. Promoting Longevity


Several studies have shown that fasting increases one's lifespan, slows down ageing and enhances physical performance (10)


Fasting aids longevity through cellular repair using autophagy. Autophagy is a process where cells clean up and recycle their components( 11). This process helps to revitalise the cells and tissues and helps the well-being of a person, which promotes longevity. 


Fasting also enhances longevity by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. These have been linked to various chronic diseases that can reduce ones lifespan. A comprehensive review conducted in healthy individuals before and after Ramadan fasting showed that fasting slightly reduced inflammation and oxidative stress in these people, contributing to a longer lifespan.(12)


Fasting may improve stress resistance (13) and activate genes responsible for DNA repair and antioxidant defense, which could promote longevity in individuals (14)


4. Improving Heart Health


Fasting is beneficial to vascular health by improving blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Several studies have associated intermittent fasting with reduced chances of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which are the most significant risk factors for heart diseases. (15)


One study found that alternate-day fasting in adults may reduce blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), the bad cholesterol (16), and also the total cholesterol in the body.


Inflammation is a significant cause of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. Fasting may reduce inflammation by increasing the production of arachidonic acid in the blood, a chemical that prevents inflammation (17).


However, a recent study showed that the 16:8 method of fasting increases the risk of cardiovascular death. (18) This indicates that more studies may be required to know the most effective method of intermittent fasting and the categories of people who can maximise the cardiovascular benefits of intermittent fasting.


5. Prevention of Diabetes


Diabetes is a disease condition where the body cannot regulate the blood sugar level due to a lack of insulin (type 1) or insulin resistance (type 2). Insulin regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood.


Fasting is beneficial in preventing diabetes. Research conducted on healthy adults showed that fasting reduces the risks of type 2 diabetes, including metabolic syndrome (19), by making the body more sensitive to insulin.(20)


Another study conducted on adults with diabetes also found that fasting improved insulin resistance.(21)


However, experts advise that a person with diabetes should approach fasting with extreme caution because certain complications may arise from fasting with type 2 diabetes.


When you deprive yourself of food, your blood sugar level drops naturally. For people with diabetes who may be using medications that reduce the blood sugar level, fasting may lead to hypoglycemia, a condition where the blood sugar level is low.


A diabetic patient should consult a medical professional to monitor their blood sugar level closely and adjust medications to fit in appropriately before and during fasting.


Regardless, more research is needed to identify other potential risks and benefits of fasting with type 2 diabetes.


6. Cancer Prevention


Studies have shown that fasting may be beneficial in cancer prevention and treatment.


Fasting reduces several risk factors for cancer, including obesity. Obesity is a significant risk factor for cancer. Managing weight is vital for cancer patients, and intermittent fasting is a powerful tool.(22)


Fasting reduces the blood sugar level, which makes it difficult for cancer cells to multiply.


Research shows that fasting helps in chemotherapy by making the cancerous cells more sensitive to cancer treatment and protecting the other cells. (23)


Studies have shown that fasting promotes the production of stem cells, which regenerates the immune system and aids faster recovery. (24)


However, experts advise against fasting, particularly for individuals in advanced stages of cancer, especially if they suffer from cachexia, a condition characterised by weight and skeletal mass loss.


Research conducted to investigate the impact and safety of fasting on patients undergoing cancer treatment advises that patients actively undergoing chemotherapy should not fast, except if it is part of a clinical trial. (22)

7. Promotes Weight Loss


Weight loss happens when a person loses more calories than they gain. Fasting for weight loss is the most common reason people practise intermittent fasting.


During a fast, the body breaks down stored fat to produce energy because the body doesn't have enough glucose for fuel. This increased metabolism makes weight loss easier.


A study showed that an alternate day fast where people ate only 25% of their regular calorie intake on non-fasting days led to weight loss. (25) Another study showed that intermediate fasting can help reduce belly fat. (26)


Fasting causes your insulin level to drop and human growth hormone to rise, increasing the rate at which fat is burned in the body, leading to weight loss.


Studies also show that fasting and exercising together is a more effective way to lose weight than either. (27) People who exercise in a fasting state burn 70% more fat than those who exercise alone. (28)


However, a person who intends to fast and exercise should practise safety measures like staying hydrated always and engaging in less strenuous exercises.


Some contrary studies have shown that fasting for weight loss may be short-term, as subjects who fasted lost weight but regained it as they usually ate. This study indicates that people who fast for weight loss should maintain healthy habits to maintain the weight loss.



How to Fast Safely


A person can maximise the health benefits of fasting only if they fast the proper way. 


For starters, It's best to begin with a short fast. If you plan on going on a longer fast, consult your doctor. Longer fast have been associated with conditions like fatigue, dehydration, lack of focus, and mood changes


Here are some tips to fast safely:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Don't gorge on plenty of food before and after fasting days
  • Listen to your body and know when to stop
  • Eat healthy food before and after fasting to make up for lost nutrients. Protein and fibre are nutritious, filling foods. Carbohydrates will replenish lost energy.
  • Don't engage in strenuous exercise
  • Keep yourself busy with activities that will take your mind off the feeling of hunger
  • You may consider taking low-calorie beverages or electrolytes-rich beverages during longer fast
  • Get quality sleep
  • Always consult your doctor for the best advice during fasting



Who Shouldn't Fast?


Fasting is beneficial; however, not everyone should fast. Fasting may lead to adverse health issues for some people. 


Fasting may not be safe for:

  • Pregnant women and nursing mothers
  • Children and adolescent
  • People who have had an eating disorder
  • People with chronic disease conditions like diabetes, hypoglycemia, low blood pressure, heart diseases
  • People who are underweight or malnourished
  • Older adults
  • People with weak immune system
  • People who have trouble sleeping





Intermittent fasting offers many health benefits, including weight loss, cancer and diabetes prevention, and improved brain and heart health. If you're looking to prolong your lifespan, you should definitely give fasting a trial. 


Fasting has gained fame worldwide and holds particular promise for Africans seeking to enhance their well-being. 


As research continues to uncover the science behind the health benefits of intermittent fasting, you should explore this practice as a viable tool for promoting health and vitality by intentionally incorporating intermittent fasting into your feeding routines.



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Published: April 15, 2024

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