Researchers: Intermittent fasting provides protection against severe COVID-19

Jul 6, 2022, 5:10 PM | Updated: 9:12 pm

MURRAY, UtahRecent research about the benefits of intermittent fasting offers a lot promise, especially for heart health. But can intermittent fasting help protect people from COVID-19?

Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare have researched the health benefits of intermittent fasting for nearly a decade. Their latest discovery: intermittent fasting helps protect against severe COVID, but it is not a replacement for vaccination.

“The people that we were studying had been doing their fasting regimen for a minimum of five years,” said Dr. Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Healthcare.

For nearly a decade, Horne has studied water-only fasting, typically among individuals who fast for 24-hour periods each week or each month. When COVID-19 emerged, Horne wanted to find out if fasting could help fight COVID.

“So, we started thinking and doing some in-depth research of what effect might fasting have on any mechanisms related to inflammation and other mechanisms that are active in controlling or reducing the severity of COVID-19,” Horne said.

Intermittent fasting has previously shown to help lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease, among other benefits. Now, Intermountain researchers have discovered that people who regularly fast are less likely to experience severe complications and death from COVID-19.

The study, published this week in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, showed that COVID-19 patients who practiced regular water-only intermittent fasting had lower risk of hospitalization or dying due to the virus than patients who did not.

“It was not protecting you from being diagnosed with COVID, but there was protection if you did contract COVID-19 that there was a protection from developing severe disease.”

So, intermittent fasting does not protect a person from catching COVID, but it can reduce the severity.

Their data comes from a population in the Intermountain West that they’ve studied since 2013. The majority, but not all, fast for religious purposes, and have been intermittently fasting for more than five years. The average in the group is 40 years of fasting.

“We found that they had a lower severity, they were less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to die if they had been following this periodic fasting regimen,” Horne said.

So, starting to fast after you’ve been diagnosed with COVID won’t necessarily provide any benefit. But if you’ve been on a fasting regimen, you likely have better protection against severe illness and death.

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Researchers: Intermittent fasting provides protection against severe COVID-19