A fasting diet might be the ticket to avoiding a COVID-19 hospitalization, a new study suggests.
Researchers at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah found that people who had practiced water-only intermittent fasting for decades were less likely to experience severe complications as a result of a COVID infection.
"Intermittent fasting has already been shown to lower inflammation and improve cardiovascular health. In this study, we're finding additional benefits when it comes to battling an infection of COVID-19 in patients who have been fasting for decades," said lead author Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain.
The researchers collected data from a voluntary registry at the health care center. They identified 205 patients who tested positive for the virus between March 2020 and February 2021 -- before vaccines were available. Seventy-three of them fasted at least once a month. (Approximately 62% of Utah residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for whom fasting on the first Sunday of the month is typical).
The researchers reported hospitalization and/or death in 11% of fasters compared to 29% of non-fasters.
They said it's unclear exactly why intermittent fasting is associated with better COVID outcomes, and that more research is needed. But they theorized that fasting can reduce inflammation, while hyper-inflammation is associated with bad COVID diagnoses.
Also, after a dozen hours of fasting, the body changes the way in which it processes blood sugar, switching from glucose to ketones, including linoleic acid, the researchers said.
"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," Horne said in an Intermountain news release.
He added that intermittent fasting also benefits a natural bodily process called autophagy, which is the recycling system that "helps your body destroy and recycle damaged and infected cells."
The authors stressed that participants had been practicing intermittent fasting for decades, and that anyone thinking to try this style of diet should first consult their doctor, especially if they are elderly, pregnant or have conditions like diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease.
Horne added that fasting should not be seen as an alternative to COVID vaccination, but perhaps a "complementary approach to vaccines and antiviral therapies for reducing COVID-19 severity."
The study was published recently in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health.
For more on protecting yourself from COVID-19, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: Intermountain Healthcare, news release, July 8, 2022