Fasting for one day each month may reduce the risk of clogged arteries by 40 percent, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Intermountain Medical Center and the University of Utah and presented at a conference of the American Heart Association.
Researchers first began to study fasting when an analysis of a health registry indicated that significantly fewer Mormons than non-Mormons in Utah suffered from the clogged arteries indicative of heart disease, even after different smoking rates were taken into account.
The researchers then conducted a survey of 515 people, 92 percent of whom were Mormon. Participants were asked about a number of habits associated with the practice of the Mormon religion, including fasting one day per month, avoidance of caffeine and alcohol, observance of a day of rest, church attendance and donation of either time or money to charity.
Of the five religious practices, only observance of the monthly fast showed any correlation with heart disease rates, with 59 percent of regular fasters developing heart disease, compared with 67 percent of those who did not fast. The difference between fasters and non-fasters remained even after the researchers adjusted for age, weight and health status, including high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure.
Researcher Benjamin Horne said it was not clear why fasting might lead to a benefit for the heart. He speculated that fasting might simply be associated with other characteristics, such as good self-control of diet. It might lead directly to the benefit too, however. When the body is deprived of food and sugar in particular, it stops producing insulin. This can prevent against the development of the insulin sensitivity associated with Type 2 diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease.
Horne noted that diabetics should not fast, because it can be dangerous for them.
In addition, fasting is not helpful for those wanting to lose weight, because it causes the body to start storing fat as soon as it has access to food again.