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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Can fasting reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes?

By Neil Kingman

Fasting may confer long-term health benefits, according to researchers at the Intermountain Medical Centre's Heart Institute in Utah. They have carried out a new study which looks at the impact of regular fasting on the risks of developing diabetes and heart disease, taking advantage of the unique habits of Utah's substantial Mormon population (who routinely fast at least once a month). Their data suggests that fasting is leading to long-term health benefits for that group. Although fasting is part of the culture of various other religious groups, not many of them do it on such a regular basis.

According to researcher Dr Benjamin Horne, the fall in the number of people smoking has led to reduced rates of cardiac mortality in most US states, but the rate in Utah was considerably lower still. Obviously, Mormons are not the only religious group that fast, but the regularity with which they do so is very much atypical.

The hypothesis is pretty straightforward: The process of fasting makes the body use its fat reserves as an energy source. As fat is burnt, the number of fat cells in the body is reduced, which equates to lower levels of cholesterol and improved insulin sensitivity (i.e. a lower risk of diabetes).

In 2007, there was a primary study, which presented a link between fasting and a lowered chance of heart disease. Now, researchers claim to have established that the impact of fasting on body weight, blood sugar and triglyceride levels is a favourable one. As things stand, however, there is a lack of research corroborating these findings, and doctors are want to look at the issue more closely, with particular emphasis on the efficacy of fasting for people already suffering from heart disease or diabetes.

Despite the positive messages about fasting that have come out of this study, it's important to be aware of the fact that fasting comes with its own risks - it can actually be harmful in many situations. If you want to ensure your health in later life, there are plenty of other, better-researched things you can do. If you are considering fasting at all, it's crucial that you consult your doctor beforehand.

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