Fasting and heart disease

Followers of the Track Your Plaque program know that we advocate periodic fasts to reduce heart disease risk.

I came across an interesting report form an abstract presented at last week's American Heart Association meetings in Orlando:

(Read the report at HeartWire. You will need to register or sign-in.)

In this study, the investigators tried to determine why members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) tended to have reduced risk of heart disease compared to others in the area but not in the LDS faith. While the reduced risk of heart disease in LDS members had been traditionally attributed to the no smoking policy advocated by the Mormon church, the investigators suspected that there was more to the reduced risk.

Of 515 people interviewed, periodic fasting, whether for religious or other reasons, was found to distinguish people who were less likely to have coronary disease by conventional catheterization (59% vs. 67%). (Since the study was published in only abstract form, it's not clear why all these people underwent heart catheterization in the first place.)

Nonetheless, it's an interesting observation and one consistent with the benefits we see when someone fasts: reduced blood pressure, reduced inflammatory responses, improved lipids and lipoproteins, weight loss.

Fasting can be an especially effective method to gain control over heart disease and coronary plaque if rapid control is desired. In fact, I wonder if the normally year-long process of plaque control that I advocate can be much abbreviated. Fasting, I believe, is a crucial component of rapid control, what I've talked about in Instant Heart Disease Reversal

There's also additional thoughts on fasting in my Heart Scan Blog post, For rapid success, try the "fast" track.

Fasting is not something to fear. It can be an enlightening process that can serve to abruptly sever bad habits, perhaps even turn the clock back on prior dietary and lifestyle excesses. My favorite variation on fasting is to use soy milk (yes, yes, I know! I can already hear the the soy bashers screaming!) as a meal substitute. It is an easy, less dramatic way that still maintains most of the benefit of a full, water-only fast.

Comments (10) -

  • Thomas

    11/14/2007 5:20:00 AM |

    I haven't read the article, but I wonder if insulin would be statistically different in a group of periodic fasters than the general pop. I also wonder if running a lower average insulin level makes it relatively easier to fast; those with higher insulin levels might find the food urges too strong to resist, or get other side effects trying to fast.

    Dr. Davis, any thoughts on insulin levels as a reflection of cardiac status, or as a marker of success with dietary changes?

  • Dr. Davis

    11/14/2007 12:54:00 PM |

    I don't know of any direct evidence, but I have seen such phenomena repeatedly in people following heathier diets and exercise programs: a drop in insulin, a drop in blood sugar, parallel with improvements in lipids and lipoproteins.  

    I also don't know if a reduced insulin level per se makes fasting easier, but I do find that people who eat better find it easier. The Twinkies-soda pop set find fasting impossibly difficult and lose interest within a few hours, or simply are terrified of trying due to insatiable hunger.

  • Sue

    11/16/2007 3:30:00 AM |

    Dr Davis,
    Is there another subsitute for soy milk?  Perhaps some kind of protein shake along with the vegie juice will suffice?  Is the fast for 2 days only or can you do it longer?

  • Dr. Davis

    11/16/2007 12:15:00 PM |

    Hi, Sue--

    I fear I've oversimplified just to make a point.

    There are indeed variations of "fasts" such as juice fasts, soy milk fasts, or other severe calorie-restrictions, such as vegetable only diets. Two resources for far more detailed discussion of the how-to's and pitfalls can be found in the Special Report, Fasting: Fast Track to Control Plaque, or Dr. Joel Furhman's book, Fasting and Eating for Health.

  • mrfreddy

    11/16/2007 7:18:00 PM |

    I started an intermittent fasting program known as fast-5 ( a couple of months ago. You skip breakfast and lunch-it's tough at first but you really do get used to it-and then have a glorious feast at dinner time. I'm doing it primarily as way to cut down calories while still enjoying great low carb food. The fact that it reduces inflammation, etc. is just a nice bonus!

  • Nancy M.

    11/23/2007 6:09:00 PM |

    Me again, just found this regarding fasting and blood sugar normalization.  I thought you might be interested in it.  It's a fellow with T2 diabetes who lowered his blood sugar with intermittent fasting.

  • Dr. Davis

    11/24/2007 1:07:00 AM |

    Hi, Nancy--

    What an interesting story!

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    10/30/2010 3:44:57 AM |

    Hi. I am trained as food scientist with additional training in exercise physiology. I have decided to go on a 10 day water fast (with vitamins and electrolytes). After 3 days I feel fantastic and am starting to lose the small amount of belly fat. I have absolutely no hunger.

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    10/30/2010 3:47:50 AM |

    It should be remembered that hunter-gathers have highly variable kilojoule intakes varying from periodic gluttony to short periods of near starvation.

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    11/3/2010 2:32:46 PM |

    Nonetheless, it's an interesting observation and one consistent with the benefits we see when someone fasts: reduced blood pressure, reduced inflammatory responses, improved lipids and lipoproteins, weight loss.