Is it true that occasionally following a fasting diet can reduce my risk of heart disease?

Answers from Martha Grogan, M.D.

Maybe. Researchers aren't exactly sure why, but it seems that occasionally fasting — not having any food and drink for about 24 hours at a time — can potentially improve your heart health.

It's difficult to tell what effect fasting has on your heart health because many people who routinely fast often do so for religious reasons. These people generally tend to not smoke or drink alcohol, which also can reduce heart disease risk.

However, it still appears people who follow a fasting diet may have better heart health than people who don't. This may be because people who routinely fast show self-control over how many calories they eat and drink, and this behavior may translate into better eating choices when they aren't fasting.

The link between periodic fasting and better heart health may also be linked to the way your body metabolizes cholesterol and sugar. Regular fasting can decrease your low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol. It's also thought that fasting may improve the way your body metabolizes sugar. This can reduce your risk of gaining weight and developing diabetes, which are both risk factors for heart disease.

If you're considering periodically fasting, you should talk to your doctor before doing so. He or she can tell you whether fasting is a good idea for you, and how often you should consider doing so. Keep in mind that regularly following a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly also can improve your heart health.

Oct. 12, 2011 See more Expert Answers