Fasting or abstaining from food may help lower the rate of diabetes and heart disease, according to study released from Intermountain Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah.
The practice, which is part of the Mormon religious culture in Utah where the center is located, also may slow or reverse diabetes and help lessen heart disease damage.
At the minimum fasting is an important intervention, especially when it comes to diabetes, states study lead author, Benjamin Horne, who runs cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.
"There are a lot of books out there recommending that people fast for two or three days a week," he said, "but there are risks with fasting and little evidence that these diets are safe."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 29 million Americans suffers from diabetes as of 2012 and one in four does not even realize they have the disease. Another 86 million adults have blood sugar levels considered pre-diabetic.
The study reveals that after 10 to 12 hours of fasting the body begins searching for sources of energy in the body and taps the bad cholesterol, LDL, from fat cells.
This, say the researchers, directly impacts the diabetes scenario.
"Fasting has the potential to become an important diabetes intervention," said Horne. "Though we've studied fasting and it's health benefits for years, we didn't know why fasting could provide the health benefits we observed related to the risk of diabetes."
Horne and his team conducted similar research in 201, focusing on one-day fasting that only allowed water intake, and its impact on glucose levels and weight loss.
"When we studied the effects of fasting in apparently healthy people, cholesterol levels increased during the one-time 24-hour fast," said Horne. "The changes that were most interesting or unexpected were all related to metabolic health and diabetes risk. Together with our prior studies that showed decades of routine fasting was associated with a lower risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease, this led us to think that fasting is most impactful for reducing the risk of diabetes and related metabolic problems."
The most recent study indicated that while cholesterol increased slightly during fasting days, the cholesterol level dropped by about 12 percent after a six-week period.
"Because we expect that the cholesterol was used for energy during the fasting episodes and likely came from fat cells, this leads us to believe fasting may be an effective diabetes intervention," said Horne.
Horne said more study is needed but that the current study provides the needed research foundation.