Going on a diet usually means that you moderately cut calories every single day, but some diets require you to drastically reduce calories just a few days of each week. Although this approach, known as intermittent fasting, has become more popular, the question remains whether this method is safe or even beneficial to your health.
Intermittent fasting involves significantly cutting calories only on some days, and eating regularly the rest of the time. Some people practice alternate-day fasting, where they fast every other day, which involves fasting just two days a week. On fasting days, people eat about one-fourth of what they would eat in a typical day, around 400 to 600 calories.
To better evaluate the use of intermittent fasting as a therapeutic intervention and the impact on health, researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute are studying people at elevated risk of chronic diseases to determine whether a frequent, but sustainable fasting regimen, reduces their risk of coronary disease, diabetes, and cognitive dysfunction.
The study, named the WONDERFUL Trial, is the first randomized trial of fasting that uses a control group of people who eat their usual diet and which evaluates a single primary outcome that isn't for weight loss purposes. The WONDERFUL Trial is testing the question of whether intermittent fasting reduces "bad" cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). Other measurements of secondary interest will also be recorded to see if fasting reduces metabolic problems, and if it improves measures of cognitive function.
This study will use rigorous clinical trial methods in this study will be crucial to determine whether intermittent fasting is simply a passing weight-loss fad or if it holds real health benefits for people.
Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute researchers have conducted fasting studies over the last decade to examine the effect of fasting on the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes among people who fast routinely.
What are the potential benefits from fasting?
"At Intermountain, our observational intermittent fasting studies over the last decade supported the existence of an important effect of fasting on achieving lower rates of coronary artery disease and diabetes among people who fast routinely for decades for religious or other purposes," said Benjamin Horne, PhD, principal investigator of the study.
"Among apparently healthy individuals and in people with pre-diabetes, other researchers' and our interventional studies have found powerful biological changes likely caused by short-term fasting, but those have been small pilot tests of fasting. We need better trials to be conducted before we can say whether fasting is actually causing the risk reductions previous studies have reported," Dr. Horne added.
The metabolic, cardiovascular, and cognitive health benefits from fasting may occur because during fasting, the body switches to using stored fats for energy, resulting in reduced insulin resistance and because fasting causes nutritional stress that may result in the repair of and improvement in the function of cells and of the metabolism. It is possible that some health benefits may also result from fasting because fasting improves an individual's dietary control.
More participants are invited to participate in the study.
Men and non-pregnant women may participate in the WONDERFUL Trial if they are 21-60 years of age, are not currently taking a statin medication or medications for diabetes, do not fast more than one day per month currently, have modestly elevated LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and have either pre-diabetes, diet-controlled type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, a blood pressure medication, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, or are overweight.
Individuals can participate if they fast up to 24 hours at a time once per month or if they fast during multiple weeks once per year (for example, Ramadan or Baha'i fasting) as long as the six-month study participation will not overlap their weeks-long fasting period. People who decline to drink water while fasting and those with a prior diagnosis of a major chronic disease are excluded from participation in the study.
Anyone who is interested in participating in the WONDERFUL Trial can call the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute at 801-507-4898 to volunteer for the study.
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