A study from Intermountain Healthcare may have discovered a new benefit of the intermittent fasting diet, finding that it may protect from severe COVID-19 complications.
Previous research has demonstrated various benefits of the intermittent fasting diet, such as lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Now, experts suggest that intermittent fasting can safeguard from severe COVID-19.
In a cohort of people in Utah who practised a water-only intermittent fasting diet, Intermountain Healthcare researchers observed that these individuals had a lower risk of hospitalisation or dying from the virus than patients who did not.
Benjamin Horne, PhD, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Healthcare, said: “Intermittent fasting has already shown to lower inflammation and improve cardiovascular health. In this study, we’re finding additional benefits when it comes to battling an infection of COVID-19 in patients who have been fasting for decades.”
Protection from severe COVID-19
For their investigation, the team analysed 205 patients enrolled in the INSPIRE registry at Intermountain Healthcare who tested positive for COVID-19 between March 2020 and February 2021, a period before vaccines were widely available.
Of this group, the researchers identified 73 COVID-19 patients that regularly fasted at least once per month, with most stating they had practised fasting for more than 40 years.
Around 62% of Utah’s population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who typically fast on the first Sunday of each month by going without food or drink for two consecutive meals.
The results illuminated that COVID-19 patients who fasted had a lower hospitalisation and death rate from the disease than those who did not.
Dr Horne Said: “An intermittent fasting diet was not associated with whether or not someone tested positive for COVID-19, but it was associated with lower severity once patients had tested positive for it.”
Why does an intermittent fasting diet reduce COVID-19?
The team explained that although further studies are needed to determine why an intermittent fasting diet may alleviate COVID-19 symptoms, the researchers hypothesised that these beneficial effects are likely because of how it affects the body.
Fasting mitigated inflammation, with hyper inflammation being linked to poor COVID-19 outcomes. Moreover, the body switches from using blood to ketones, such as linoleic acid, in the blood after fasting for between 12 and 14 hours.
Dr Horne explained: “There’s a pocket on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 that linoleic acid fits into – and can make the virus less able to attach to other cells. Another potential benefit is that intermittent fasting promotes autophagy, which is the body’s recycling system that helps your body destroy and recycle damaged and infected cells.”
The team reiterated that the participants in this study had been practising intermittent fasting for decades and that anyone who wants to consider it should consult their doctor first, especially if they are elderly, pregnant, or have conditions like diabetes, heart, or kidney disease. They also state that intermittent fasting should not be used instead of COVID-19 vaccinations.”
“It should be further evaluated for potential short and long-term preventative or therapeutic use as a complementary approach to vaccines and anti-viral therapies for reducing COVID-19 severity,” Dr Horne concluded.