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Intermittent Fasting for Better Heart Health

People who practice intermittent fasting even once a month have better heart health. They are less likely to develop heart failure or die prematurely.
Intermittent Fasting for Better Heart Health
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Intermittent fasting is getting more attention. Going without food for at least 12 hours and up to a day or longer has been promoted for weight loss and blood sugar control (Nutrients, Oct. 14, 2019). Now there is evidence that this practice has metabolic benefits and could promote better heart health.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Help Metabolism?

A study demonstrates that intermittent fasting has metabolic benefits. Researchers from Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City presented their findings at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions (Nov. 13, 2021). For the study, they recruited 67 people who had type 2 diabetes or at least one feature of metabolic syndrome. This condition is a marker for a higher risk of heart disease. It includes a big belly, elevated blood sugar, insulin resistance, increased blood pressure, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol.

The investigators assigned half the participants in the trial to a water-only fast twice a week for the first month and then once a week for the next five months. The other half of the volunteers did not change their eating patterns.

Those who fasted had less insulin resistance and fewer markers of metabolic syndrome. They also had less inflammation. Experts believe this could translate to better heart health. Previous research has shown that intermittent fasting can help people lose weight and reduce their chances of heart disease. Read on for reports of those earlier studies.

An Observational Study on Fasting and Better Heart Health:

Years ago, a study in Utah found that fasting on a regular basis might contribute to better heart health. The researchers questioned 200 people undergoing angiography to detect heart disease. The patients, mostly members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), were asked about fasting. Those who reported fasting once a month were 58 percent less likely to have diseased coronary arteries than those who did not. The findings were reported at the meeting of the American College of Cardiology in April, 2011.

Following Up on Fasting and Better Heart Health:

A subsequent study from Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute found that people who practice intermittent fasting are less likely to develop heart failure. They also have better chances of survival after cardiac catheterization. Researchers tracked 2,000 patients undergoing this diagnostic procedure for four and a half years. When they had the test performed, the participants answered questions about lifestyle.

Because Intermountain Healthcare is located in Salt Lake City, many of the subjects were Mormons. The church encourages its members to fast for at least two consecutive meals a month, usually on the first Sunday. The money they would have spent on food is supposed to be donated to the church as a fast offering. As a result, many devout church members undergo routine fasting one day a month.

The investigators presented their results from the cardiac catheterization study at the American Heart Association annual meeting on Nov. 16, 2019, in Philadelphia, PA. They speculated that intermittent fasting activates biological processes such as ketosis (using fat rather than sugar for energy) that may contribute to better heart health. In addition, routine intermittent fasting over a long period of time may prime the body. Potentially, this could allow shorter fasting periods such as the time between dinner and breakfast to trigger a helpful metabolic response.

Learn More:

Other researchers have reported that intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating can slow the progression of atherosclerosis, lower blood pressure, improve the lipid profile, reduce inflammation and minimize the risk of type 2 diabetes (Nutrients, March 20, 2019). Presumably, all these actions should lead to better heart health. In particular, previous research suggests that eating the largest meal earlier in the day offers advantages. To learn more about the use of intermittent fasting in diabetes, you may wish to listen to our Show 1143: Can You Control Your Blood Sugar by Fasting?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Rynders C et al, "Effectiveness of intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding compared to continuous energy restriction for weight loss." Nutrients, Oct. 14, 2019. DOI: 10.3390/nu11102442
  • Malinowski B et al, "Intermittent fasting in cardiovascular disorders-An overview." Nutrients, March 20, 2019. DOI: 10.3390/nu11030673
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