Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Periodic fasting good for the heart?

This appeared in Tara Parker-Pope's Well Blog in the New York Times

Regular fasting may be good for your heart. That’s the finding of a new study from doctors in Utah who looked at the relationship between periodic fasting and cardiovascular disease. The researchers interviewed 200 patients who were undergoing an angiography, an X-ray exam of the blood vessels and heart chambers that can determine if a person has coronary heart disease. The patients were asked if they engaged in regular fasting, and the researchers compared the answers to whether they eventually received a diagnosis of heart disease. Because about 90 percent of the patients were Mormons, a faith that encourages its members to fast for one day a month, the doctors expected to find a relatively high rate of regular fasting among the study participants. The researchers found that people who fasted regularly had a 58 percent lower risk of coronary disease compared with those who said they didn’t fast, according to the report presented at the American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans this week.

The study showed only an association between fasting and better heart health, which means it’s possible that fasting may not have a direct effect but might just be more common among people who are healthier to begin with.

A second, smaller study conducted by the same research team suggests that the effects of fasting aren’t just about having an overall healthy lifestyle, but that abstaining from food on a regular basis leads to metabolic changes that are good for the heart. For that research, also presented at the New Orleans conference, 30 patients were asked to fast for 24 hours with water only. The scientists used blood tests before and after the fasting period to look at a number of different metabolic markers. Among other changes, they found that levels of human growth hormone, or HGH, surged after fasting — increasing 20 times in men and 13 times in women. The hormone is released by the body in times of starvation to protect lean muscle mass and trigger the body to start burning fat stores.

Bonnie - another possibility that was not discussed in the two studies is that a fast gives your organ systems time to rest and regenerate. The gastrointestinal tract, in particular, works tirelessly to process what your body ingests. Giving it time to periodically to rest is important.

We never suggest that one fast or cleanse without working a licensed health professional, especially if one has health issues or are on medication.

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