Intermittent fasting (IF) is increasingly gaining popularity worldwide as one of the famous health trends. Many celebrities swear by this eating pattern to lose weight and stay fit. Several studies have proven the health benefits of intermittent fasting, including reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease. Now, a new study has suggested that people who follow intermittent fasting are less likely to experience severe complications from COVID-19.
For those who may not know: Intermittent fasting is a time-restricted way of eating in which you eat only during a specific period of time and fast for the remaining hours.
Researchers from Intermountain Healthcare, who conducted the study, stated that COVID patients who followed water-only intermittent fasting regularly had lower risk of hospitalization or dying due to the virus than patients who did not. The results were published this week in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.
How intermittent fasting helps reduce COVID-19 Complications?
The Intermountain study involved 205 patients who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 between March 2020 and February 2021, before COVID-19 vaccines were widely available.
It was found that patients who had been fasting regularly for decades had a lower rate of hospitalization or death due to coronavirus. Of the total participants, 73 said they fast at least once a month, and they have been doing so regularly for an average of more than 40 years.
Dr. Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Healthcare, stressed that further research is needed to understand the association between intermittent fasting and better COVID-19 outcomes. However, he believes that the benefits of this eating pattern when it comes to battling the COVID-19 infection is most likely due to a host of ways that it affects the body.
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He elaborated that fasting reduces inflammation, and hyperinflammation is associated with poor COVID-19 outcomes.
Moreover, when you fast for hours, the body switches from using glucose in the blood to ketones, including linoleic acid.
"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," Dr. Horne said, as quoted by Science Daily.
Additionally, intermittent fasting promotes autophagy, which helps your body destroy and recycle damaged and infected cells, he added.
Can intermittent fasting help prevent COVID-19?
The study didn't find intermittent fasting associated with whether or not someone tested positive COVID-19, but it was associated with lower severity once patients had tested positive for the virus, Dr. Horne stated.
Dr. Horne also noted that the benefits of intermittent fasting were seen in people who have been following it for decades, not weeks. Those who are considering following this eating pattern should consult their doctors first, especially elderly, pregnant, or those with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart, or kidney disease, he said.
The researchers also cautioned that intermittent fasting shouldn't be seen as a substitute for COVID-19 vaccination.