Is it true that occasionally following a fasting diet can reduce my risk of heart disease?
Answer From Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.
Maybe. Researchers aren't sure why, but it seems that some type of fasting — severely restricting food and drink for a certain period of time — can potentially improve some risk factors related to heart health.
There are a variety of popular approaches to fasting, including alternate-day fasting and time-restricted eating. Alternate-day fasting involves eating normally one day and fasting or eating little the next. Time restrictions involve eating only between certain hours of the day, such as between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
It's difficult to tell what effect regular fasting has on your heart health because many people who routinely fast do so for health or religious reasons. These people generally tend to not smoke, which also can reduce heart disease risk. However, some studies have indicated that people who follow a fasting diet might have better heart health than people who don't fast.
Regular fasting and better heart health might 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 can 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.
However, there are concerns about the potential side effects of regular fasting for certain people or in specific circumstances. Fasting isn't recommended for:
- People with eating disorders and those who are underweight
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- People taking diabetes medications
- People with end-stage liver disease
The effects of fasting on heart health look promising, but more study is needed to determine whether regular fasting can reduce your risk of heart disease. If you're considering regular fasting, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons. Keep in mind that a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly also can improve your heart health.
Dec. 04, 2020
Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.
See more Expert Answers
- Regular fasting could lead to longer, healthier life. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/11/25/regular-fasting-could-lead-to-longer-healthier-life. Accessed Nov. 8, 2020.
- Dong TA, et al. Intermittent fasting: A heart healthy dietary pattern? American Journal of Medicine. 2020; doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2020.03.030.
- Malinowski B, et al. Intermittent fasting in cardiovascular disorders: An overview. Nutrients. 2019; doi:10.3390/nu11030673.
- Perrault L. Obesity in adults: Dietary therapy. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.