A study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia this November found that heart patients who practiced routine intermittent fasting over a period of four and a half years were ultimately healthier than those who didn’t.
Benjamin Horne, PhD, the study’s principal investigator and the director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, said in a release that his team’s study helps answer some of researchers’ questions about the benefits of fasting—but not nearly all of them. Studies, including a handful led by Horne himself, have proven long-term intermittent fasting as a solid predictor of better health outcomes, but fasting hasn’t been established as a causal agent for better survival.
“While many rapid weight loss fasting diets exist today, the different purposes of fasting in those diets and in this study should not be confused with the act of fasting,” Horne said. “All proposed biological mechanisms of health benefits from fasting arise from effects that occur during the fasting period or are consequences of fasting.”
Horne said the Intermountain Heart Institute is an ideal spot to investigate the CV benefits of fasting, since a good proportion of Utah’s population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormons routinely fast for two consecutive meals on the first Sunday of each month, he said.
The researchers surveyed 2,001 Intermountain patients undergoing cardiac catheterization between 2013 and 2015, asking them whether or not they engaged in routine fasting alongside a slew of other lifestyle questions. The team followed up with patients four and a half years later and found routine fasters had better survival rates than people who didn’t fast.
“It’s another example of how we’re finding that regularly fasting can lead to better health outcomes and longer lives,” Horne said.
He said some of the CV benefits of fasting could stem from changes in a person’s level of hemoglobin, human growth hormone and their red blood cell count. Fasting also lowers sodium and bicarbonate levels and activates ketosis and autophagy.
It typically takes 12 hours of fasting to activate health benefits. The researchers said routine fasting is likely most effective if practiced over a period of years or even decades, though they warned fasting isn’t safe for everybody.