Intermittent fasting has been one of the most popular health trends of the past decade. It is an eating pattern during which you refrain from consuming any calories for an extended period of time. Usually, this period lasts between 12 and 40 hours.
This type of diet boosts some host defense mechanisms while modulating the inflammatory response.
How does it work with COVID-19?
Fasting modifies energy utilization by consuming glucose and glycogen, inducing gluconeogenesis, and subsequently activating ketogenesis. In the switch to ketosis during fasting, circulating levels of fatty acids, including linoleic acid, increase. Intriguingly, linoleic acid tightly binds to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19. The attachment of linoleic acid to the spike reduces the affinity of SARS-CoV-2 for ACE2. An acute rise in linoleic acid while a person is fasting, thus, provides a direct mechanism for fasting to acutely reduce the severity of COVID-19.
Benjamin Horne, PhD, of Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City and his team did a study to see the benefits when it comes to battling an infection of COVID-19 in patients who have been fasting for decades
The study was done on men and women in Utah who were, on average, in their 60s and got COVID before vaccines were available. Roughly 1 in 3 people in Utah fast from time to time – higher than in other states. This is partly because more than 60% of people in Utah belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and roughly 40% of them fast – typically skipping two meals in a row.
What were the findings in the study?
In their study, the team looked at data from 1,524 adults who were seen in the cardiac catheterization lab at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, completed a survey, and had a test for the virus that causes COVID-19 from March 16, 2020, to Feb. 25, 2021.
Of these patients, 205 tested positive for COVID, and of these, 73 reported that they had fasted regularly at least once a month.
Similar numbers of patients got COVID-19 whether they had, or had not, fasted regularly (14%, versus 13%). But among those who tested positive for the virus, fewer patients were hospitalized for COVID or died during the study follow-up if they had fasted regularly (11%) than if they had not fasted regularly (29%).
Periodic fasting was still an independent predictor of a lower risk of hospitalization or death, even when the analyses were adjusted for age, smoking, alcohol use, ethnicity, history of heart disease, and other factors.
Importantly, intermittent fasting shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for getting a COVID vaccine, the researchers stress. Rather, periodic fasting might be a health habit to consider, since it is also linked to a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease. But anyone who wants to consider intermittent fasting should consult their doctor first, Horne stressed, especially if they are elderly, pregnant, or have diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease.
This eating pattern should be investigated in further studies to see if it can be prescribed as a complementary therapy to vaccines to reduce COVID-19 severity, both during the pandemic and post pandemic.
Benjamin D Horne, Heidi T May, Joseph B Muhlestein, Viet T Le, Tami L Bair, Kirk U Knowlton, Jeffrey L Anderson, (May 20, 2022). Association of periodic fasting with lower severity of COVID-19 outcomes in the SARS-CoV-2 prevaccine era: an observational cohort from the INSPIRE registry. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health. Retrieved from: https://nutrition.bmj.com/content/bmjnph/early/2022/06/30/bmjnph-2022-000462.full.pdf
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