By Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS
Healthnotes Newswire (April 13, 2006)—Intermittent fasting, as practiced by observant Muslims during the month of Ramadan, is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism (2005;49:77–82). During Ramadan, drinking and eating are restricted between dawn and sunset (approximately 12 hours per day), which makes it a unique model of intermittent fasting.
Twenty-four observant Muslims (12 females and 12 males in their twenties or early thirties) participated in the study. All were healthy nonsmokers, with normal cholesterol levels. In accordance with religious observance, females did not fast if they were menstruating, but this restriction appeared to have no effect on the results. Males fasted during the day throughout the entire month. Apart from the fasting, no special nutritional program was followed and no vitamin supplements were taken.
During the month when these restrictions were observed, and for up to 20 days afterward, the people had lower levels of homocysteine (a risk factor for heart attack and stroke), higher HDL cholesterol (the protective form of cholesterol), and beneficial changes in blood thickness. Total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) remained unchanged. No significant changes in body weight occurred, indicating that the amount of food eaten outside of fasting hours was sufficient to maintain energy balance.
Why would intermittent fasting produce these results? Skipping at least one meal when the body is especially metabolically active could lead to such changes, but the mechanisms are not well characterized. Observance during Ramadan also includes refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, angry or sarcastic retorts, and gossip. Several studies have associated anger and so-called Type A behavior with heart disease. Such behavioral changes may, therefore, have contributed to the effects seen in the study.
Fasting during Ramadan is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities in order to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. These new results suggest that intermittent fasting may also redirect the heart away from the harm caused by cardiovascular disease.
Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.