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

Answers from Donald Hensrud, M.D.

Maybe. Researchers aren't sure why, but it seems that regularly fasting — severely restricting food and drink for one to two days a week — 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, at least one study has indicated that 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 weight control and better eating choices when they aren't fasting.

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.

More study is needed to determine whether occasional fasting can reduce your risk of heart disease. If you're considering periodic fasting, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons. Keep in mind that following a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly also can improve your heart health.

Oct. 03, 2014 See more Expert Answers