The Health Benefits of Fasting
Not eating for a full day has generally been associated with religious traditions such as Yom Kippur, Ramadan, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday. Some fasts are absolute and some only require that certain types of food or drink are abstained. The act of fasting has different meanings to different groups, but is generally used for purging sins from our body or sacrificing our comfort for those who sacrificed for us. Fasting also has interesting beneficial health effects. A new study from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Utah has demonstrated that periodic fasting is good for your health and your heart.
According to researchers at Intermountain, fasting can lower the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, as well as regulate blood cholesterol levels. Fasting also reduces other cardiac risk factors such as triglycerides, weight, and blood sugar levels. The new research expands upon an older study in 2007 which linked fasting to reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
"These new findings demonstrate that our original discovery was not a chance event," says Dr. Benjamin D. Horne, PhD, MPH, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, and the study's principal investigator. "The confirmation among a new set of patients that fasting is associated with lower risk of these common diseases raises new questions about how fasting itself reduces risk or if it simply indicates a healthy lifestyle."
Humans have a natural instinct to eat, and modern society has provided people with ample sources of food. By having food available, but not allowing oneself to eat, stress rises. Hunger is one of the primary causes of stress to the body. In response, the body will release more cholesterol which uses fat as a source of fuel rather than glucose. This causes fat cells to reduce which leads to a lower risk of diabetes.
The researchers conducted two fasting studies with over 200 people, both healthy volunteers and patients. One group fasted absolutely, and the other group was allowed to drink water. All of the fasts lasted 24 hours. During this time, the individuals, biological mechanisms were monitored as well as the day after when they returned to their normal diet. For both groups, cholesterol levels rose up to 14 percent.
Fasting is definitely not recommended for any extended period of time. Building up cholesterol levels too high is not healthy. Starvation is not good for a strong heart. However, done periodically, fasting for a 24 hour period can have some beneficial effects. The researchers believe that fasting could one day be prescribed as a treatment for preventing coronary heart disease and diabetes. Their study was presented at the American college of Cardiology in New Orleans.
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