Researchers from the Intermountain Medical Center’s Heart Institute in Utah have found that regular fasting cuts the risk of both heart disease and diabetes. The study comes from Utah because the state’s large number of Mormon residents are asked to fast at least once a month. For many of them, not eating at all has real, long-lasting health benefits.
“Utahns and LDS [Latter Day Saints] people have a lower risk of cardiac mortality. Even today, despite the fact that smoking rates have declined in most states, and quite considerably in some states, the Utah rate of cardiac death is much lower than in most states,” said Dr. Benjamin Horne, one of the team of researchers at the institute.
How does it work? Basically, fasting allows the body to burn fat as fuel, Horne said, and that reduces its overall number of fat cells. Fewer fat cells mean lower cholesterol, increased insulin sensitivity, and a lower risk of diabetes. Researchers first looked at fasting back in 2007.
That initial round of work suggested that it cut the risk of heart disease. Their new findings show that it can improve other measures of heart health and overall wellness, such as weight, blood sugar, and triglycerides.
Utah, with its sizable Mormon population, was the perfect place for the study, Horne said. While other religions include fasting, they don’t make a habit of it. “Most of the world’s population doesn’t fast on a regular basis,” he said. Doctors involved in the study want to continue examining the benefits of fasting, a topic that hasn’t been studied in depth.
They plan on using a grant from the Deseret Foundation-a nonprofit connected to the institute-to continue their work, concentrating on how fasting might help those already managing heart disease and diabetes.
Interested in trying out fasting for yourself? Horne recommends that you look before you leap. Some people simply shouldn’t fast for health reasons. “People have to be careful,” he said. “If there is some interest, they ought to talk to their physician first.”
The Intermountain Medical Center scientists presented their findings at the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans in April.