Jul 7, 2022 - News

Utah researchers say fasting may lower the risk of severe COVID complications

Illustration of four virus cells in an Andy Warhol photocopy style, with coloring related to the four seasons.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Intermittent fasting is associated with less severe complications from COVID-19, according to a study released Wednesday by doctors at Intermountain Healthcare.

  • Intermittent fasting means switching between fasting and eating on a regular schedule — for instance, drinking only water for one day each week or month.

Driving the news: Of 205 patients who tested positive for COVID-19, doctors found nearly 30% of those who did not fast regularly were hospitalized — compared to just over 10% of those who fasted regularly.

Details: Previous research has linked fasting to weight loss and a lower risk of heart problems, diabetes and hyperinflammation — risk factors for serious COVID.

  • Fasting also increases levels of some fatty acids, including one that binds to the virus' spike proteins in a way that makes it less likely to be able to infect the body’s cells.

Context: Many Intermountain patients are Latter-day Saints, who are instructed to fast regularly as a religious practice.

  • Intermountain doctors have been studying the general effects of fasting for about a decade, said Dr. Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology.

What they're saying: Some benefits of fasting may have evolved in humans over time, Horne said.

  • "You can imagine that during times of food scarcity, that there were infectious diseases around," Horne said. "Being able to respond to those infectious diseases, when you're still weakened from not having food, [it] would make a lot of sense … that fasting is involved in those mechanisms to protect against that infection."

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