While intermittent fasting sounds like another diet delusion, the practice of not eating and drinking regularly for short periods of time has led to potentially better health outcomes. [1
"It's another example of how we find that regular fasting can lead to better health outcomes and a longer life," Dr. Benjamin Horne, Principal Investigator of the Study and Director of Cardiovascular and Genetic Epidemiology at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute.
The results of the study will be presented at the American Heart Association 2019 Scientific Meetings in Philadelphia on Saturday, November 16, 2019.
In the study, researchers surveyed 2,001 intermountain patients undergoing cardiac catheterization from 2013 to 2015 a series of lifestyle questions, including whether they routinely practice intermittent fasting or not. The researchers studied these patients 4.5 years later and found that routine fasting had a higher survival rate than those who did not.
Because people who routinely fast also have other healthy behaviors, the study also looked at other parameters, including demographics, socioeconomic factors, cardiac risk factors, comorbid diagnoses, medications and treatments, and other behaviors such as smoking and alcohol use.
The statistical correction of these factors revealed that routine fasting over a longer period of time was a strong predictor of better survival and reduced risk of heart failure, according to researchers.
The Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute has the ability to scrutinize intermittent fasting, as a large proportion of its patients do so on a regular basis: A significant portion of the population in Utah is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are usually fast on the first Sunday of the month when two consecutive meals are taken without food or drink, and thus nothing is eaten for a period of about one day.
While the study does not show that fasting is the causal effect for better survival, these real results in a large population suggest that fasting may have an effect and require further study of behavior.
"While there are many fast-losing diets today with rapid weight loss, the different purposes of fasting in these diets and in this study should not be confused with fasting," Dr. Horne. "All proposed biological mechanisms for the health benefits of fasting are based on effects that occur during the fasting period or are the consequences of fasting."
Dr. Horne has previously conducted studies on the risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease in patients and found that the rates are lower in patients who routinely fast intermittently. These studies were published in 2008 and 2012 and suggest that decades of development of these chronic diseases could be ameliorated by long-term routine fasting.
Why long-term intermittent fasting leads to better health outcomes, however, is still largely unknown. Horne said it could be a variety of factors. Fasting affects hemoglobin levels, the number of red blood cells, human growth hormone, lowers sodium and bicarbonate levels while activating ketosis and autophagy – all factors that improve heart health and, in particular, reduce the risk of heart failure and coronary heart disease.
"Given the risk of lower heart failure that we have identified, which is consistent with previous mechanistic studies, this study suggests that routine fasting, with a low incidence of more than two-thirds of life span, activates the same biological mechanisms that require fasting. Diets are quickly activated, "Dr. Horne.
Researchers speculate that regular fasting over years and even decades causes the body to activate the beneficial mechanisms of fasting after a shorter time than usual.
Normally, fasting lasts for about 12 hours until the effects are activated. However, long-term fasting may shorten that time, so the daily overnight lunchtime between dinner and breakfast will be slightly lower with every routine quicker amount of daily benefit, they noted.
Further studies are underway to answer this question and other questions related to possible mechanisms of effects on the development of chronic diseases and survival. Further research will also explore possible psychological effects of fasting and possible effects on appetite and perception of hunger.
Fasting is not for everyone. The researchers warn that pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as small children and frail older adults should not fast. Persons with an organ transplant, a weakened immune system, acute or severe chronic infections as well as persons with eating disorders should also not fast.
People who have been diagnosed with chronic diseases – especially those on diabetes, blood pressure or heart disease – should not fast unless closely monitored by a doctor, as medications combined with fasting can cause serious side effects Cause, also called hypoglycemia.
Other members of the Intermountain research team are: Ciera Bartholomew (BYU), Jeffrey L. Anderson, Heidi T. May, Kirk U. Knowlton, Tami L. Bair, Viet T. Le, Bruce W Bailey (BYU) and Joseph B. Muhlestein.
This research study was funded by the Intermountain Research and Medical Foundation.
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