Study: Sensible intermittent fasting can be good for heart health

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OREM — Have you ever wondered how effective intermittent fasting is? The hot dieting trend may have health benefits far beyond weight loss, according to researchers.

Until recent changes in her eating habits, including intermittent fasting, Celeste Allred said she felt a lack of energy and focus. "I had such bad brain fog. I couldn't focus on anything. I couldn't think," said Allred, a mother of nine children, who lives in Orem. "Even taking simple phone calls was too much."

She said adopting a schedule of intermittent fasting improved her focus and cognition.

That's not surprising, said Dr. Benjamin Horne, with the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute.

"It's kind of recovering and rejuvenating," said Horne, the institute's principal investigator and director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology.

In a study presented to the American Heart Association last November, Horne and his team found intermittent fasting, going once a week for 24 hours with only water, reduced inflammation in the body.

They believe it controls galectin-3, a protein tied to inflammatory response, reducing the risk of diabetes, coronary disease and heart failure.

"The lack of food signals to the cells throughout the body that there's a need to optimize their function," Horne said. "They do their job better when you move on from the fasting."

Over time, regular periods of fasting can reset baseline blood sugars to normal levels, according to Horne. It needs to be sustainable, though, a routine you can stick to.

Horne and a colleague tried it themselves. "We both lost about six pounds," he said.

They found after four months of fasting once a week, they were less tempted to snack in between meals, an added benefit he hears about from patients. "They feel like they are more able to control their eating habits rather than having the desire for food controlling them," he said.

Intermittent fasting can take on different schedules. Horne said even fasting 12 hours from dinnertime until morning can be beneficial. But generally, the longer you safely stretch those hours, the better.

Allred said by fasting, she feels better. "I like being able to think," she said. "I like having energy. I like being able to move. I like being able to take care of my family."

She's making regular periods without food a part of her healthy routine. As is the case with any diet, consult with your doctor first.

Experts warn that young children and adults with any number of health issues should not fast.

They are also always concerned that fasting could lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and eating disorders.

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Heather Simonsen
Heather Simonsen is a five-time Emmy Award-winning enterprise reporter for KSL-TV. Her expertise is in health and medicine, drug addiction, science and research, family, human interest and social issues. She is the host and producer of KSL-TV’s Positively 50+ initiative.


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