Intermittent fasting may lower the risk of dying from COVID-19

Intermountain Healthcare reports that many who intermittently fast have inadvertently protected themselves.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Friday, August 13, 2021. Intermountain Healthcare reports that many who are intermittently fasting have inadvertently protected themselves, according to a new study.

Utahns who practice intermittent fasting — as mandated by Latter-day Saints — may have unknowingly lowered their risk of suffering severe effects from COVID-19 infection. This is the result of a study by doctors from Intermountain Healthcare.

“People who report routine fasting in these studies…are typically members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Dr. Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Healthcare.

“They were less likely to need hospitalization and die when they followed this regular fasting regimen,” Horne said.

The study focused on people who fast, many for religious reasons

As of 2013, Horne has been studying a population of just over 1,500 people who fast regularly.

Of those people, 205 tested positive for the coronavirus between March 2020 and February 2021, before vaccines became widely available. And 73 said they regularly fast at least once a month.

The study, published this week in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, draws on the fact that “a large proportion of the Intermountain West population routinely fasts — primarily, but not exclusively, for religious reasons,” he said horns.

The average person in the study fasts for 24 hours once a month and has done so for an average of just over 40 years. Members of the LDS Church are called to fast on the first Sunday of each month and to spend two consecutive meals without eating or drinking.

The study found that fasting did not protect people from contracting COVID-19 but did appear to reduce the severity of symptoms for those who did get sick.

Why does intermittent fasting seem to help?

According to Horne, intermittent fasting activates several “biological mechanisms” that reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms — mechanisms related to inflammation, turning off and activating immune cells, and preventing COVID-19 from infecting other cells.

Intermittent fasting boosts the body’s recycling system, Horne said, which can help your body “destroy and recycle damaged and infected cells.” It may also reduce the risk of comorbidities like diabetes and heart disease.

Fasting once a month can reduce risks of COVID-19, but only over time, Horne advised.

“Fasting once a month is unlikely to protect you from COVID-19 in the short term,” he said. “But if you fast two days a week or even one day a week, there are mechanisms that we know from other studies [that] will help you turn on these biological pathways that protect against severe COVID-19.”

Fasting is not recommended for everyone

Horne also pointed out that some people should not fast – those who are “elderly and infirm”; small children; people with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, heart disease or stroke patients; and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

If any of these apply to you, then “discuss them thoroughly” with your doctor, Horne said.

He also stressed that intermittent fasting is not an alternative therapy for COVID-19. Instead, it is an adjunctive therapy to vaccines and antivirals.

He urged people to get vaccinated and kept up-to-date – although he acknowledged research suggests vaccine immunity wears off over time, in some cases as little as six months.

“Vaccinating the entire world with a COVID-19 vaccine every six months is not feasible,” Horne said. “A routine fasting program — something that lasts for a long period of time — can potentially help people bridge the gaps between vaccinations, giving you extra immunity to protect against the severity of COVID-19.” Intermittent fasting may lower the risk of dying from COVID-19

Joel McCord

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