Early Research Suggests Intermittent Fasting May Protect Your Heart From Covid-19

A new study provides a snapshot of how time-restricted eating may protect you.

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If you’ve been wanting to get into intermittent fasting, here’s some incentive: There’s some recent evidence to suggest it may protect your heart from the worst of a Covid-19 infection.

This comes from a new study led by researchers at Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, Utah, that found among Covid-19 patients with a previous history of heart disease, those who fasted had lower rates of heart complications from the infection compared to patients who didn’t fast.

“Fasting won’t necessarily stop a cardiac event from happening, but it may prevent someone from developing heart failure after [the event],” Benjamin Horne, lead researcher and director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Health, said in a press release.

The findings were presented on Monday at the American College of Cardiology/World Health Federation’s 2023 Scientific Session in New Orleans.

The benefits of intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting, an eating pattern in which you go without food for varying stretches of time, has long been touted as chockful of health benefits — from reducing inflammation and weight loss to brain health and longevity. And while the likes of Kourtney Kardashian famously swear by the power of intermittent fasting, keeping a tight leash on your food intake may have some unintended side effects like binge eating and loss of lean muscle.

When it comes to Covid-19, however, there may be some precedent for time-restricted eating. In a July 2022 study published in the British Medical Journal Nutrition, Horne and his colleagues found that intermittent fasting — particularly a water-only fast — appeared to lower the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19 infection for those who practiced it versus those who didn’t.

These findings were based on 205 Covid-19 positive patients selected from the INSPIRE registry, a voluntary health registry run by Intermountain Health in Utah. Seventy-three of these patients reported fasting regularly, at least once a month on average, for more than 40 years. The study’s population focused on a population in Utah, a state where nearly 62 percent of the population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members usually fast on the first Sunday of the month by skipping two consecutive meals of that day.

Intermittent fasting may reduce Covid-19-associated inflammation

Much like in their previous study, Horne and his colleagues turned to the INSPIRE registry, looking for patients who underwent cardiac catheterization (a medical procedure where a tiny flexible tube is inserted into the heart) between February 2013 to March 2020.

They identified 464 individuals who were also diagnosed with Covid-19 between March 2020 and April 2022, and among them, 135 patients who reported fasting regularly on average for nearly 43 years. (The shortest and longest period of intermitting fasting was seven and 82 years, respectively.)

Those infected patients with previous heart issues who fasted seemed to be more protected from severe heart-related Covid-19 complications than those who didn’t.

“These results show that long-term, low-frequency fasting can help prevent heart failure, even in patients who have both COVID-19 and heart problems already,” said Horne in the press release.

The schematics of the relationship aren’t entirely clear. It could be intermittent fasting reduces the hyperinflammation caused by the coronavirus, or it could be a phenomenon called autophagy, a sort of cell-recycling system where your body destroys and cleans up damaged and infected cells, said Horne. Autophagy tends to happen during periods of fasting and most often when we’re sleeping.

Horne said that more research is needed to suss out the Covid-19 and intermittent fasting connection. But if staving off Covid-19 has got you interested in trying out intermittent fasting, please consult your doctor first, especially if you’re elderly, pregnant, or have medical conditions that may make the practice unsafe such as diabetes or kidney disease.

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