Intermittent fasting: a potential heart-healthy dietary pattern

| Posted On Oct 22, 2020 | By:

For many, developing a healthy lifestyle can be incredibly overwhelming due to the number of diets and fitness trends currently on the market. There are countless diets marketed as revolutionary systems for losing weight and improving overall health, but they are not always based on mechanisms that are proven to be safe and effective.

One trend that has gained recent attention for its ability to improve cardiac health and reduce obesity is intermittent fasting (IF). IF is a dietary pattern focused on when you eat rather than what you eat. It has become a popular way for individuals to reduce their caloric intake, kickstart healthy internal processes, and burn fat.

The act of fasting has existed for many centuries and is often practiced in various religions during holidays or ceremonies. And before widespread farming existed, humans learned to thrive without eating for long periods of time. Our bodies still have the natural ability to survive while fasting, but the related health benefits have only recently gained popularity.

How do you practice intermittent fasting?

There are two common methods for intermittent fasting:

While both methods of fasting are effective ways to improve cardiac health and reduce obesity, health care providers recommend maintaining a healthy diet while utilizing IF. This will help ensure an individual receives the best possible benefits from their fasting method. Additionally, many individuals find it easier to maintain the time-restricted eating pattern, as it still provides time to eat for 4-8 hours every day. Some individuals may start at a 14 to 16 hour fast schedule and work their way up until they can comfortably maintain the eating pattern of their choice.

What are the benefits?

Although there is not a lot of formalized research exploring how IF can improve cardiac health, current studies suggest that intermittent fasting may reduce the risk for developing cardiovascular diseases and can improve weight control, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes. Evidence also suggests that IF can improve outcomes in those who have previously experienced a cardiovascular event.

Additional benefits of intermittent fasting include:

How does this compare to traditional diets?

People often think that continuously restricting caloric intake, or the amount of food you eat, is the only and most effective way to lose weight. However, those with elevated BMIs may have more success with intermittent fasting while experiencing some additional benefits. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting both improve your body’s stress response, lower blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, and lower cholesterol. However, intermittent fasting is better for promoting ketogenesis, synchronizing with the body’s sleep-wake cycle, and promoting long-term adherence. Those combined factors are incredibly important for improving health outcomes.

Many who use intermittent fasting as a weight-loss tool are successful because IF does not usually require major behavioral shifts, especially when practicing the time-restricted eating method. Weight loss strategies that fit easily into someone’s existing lifestyle can help them stick to their plan and maintain positive momentum towards reaching their goals.

Things to consider

Some human studies show intermittent fasting may reduce multiple cardiovascular risk factors, including obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes. However, future research must investigate the safety of each IF strategy, effectiveness across patient populations, and duration of intermittent fasting needed before cardiovascular benefits occur.

Additionally, many of the reported benefits of intermittent fasting were observed in animal studies but have not yet been confirmed in humans. More research is necessary to explore the relationship between fasting and benefits such as cancer and neurodegenerative disease prevention.

Lastly, those looking to lose weight or improve their cardiovascular health should always discuss their options with a healthcare provider. Your Atrius Health provider can work with you to find a dietary pattern or weight loss plan best suited to your individual needs.

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Dr. Wei Yang

About Dr. Wei Yang

Dr. Yang joined Atrius Health in 2013 and is a board-certified internist at our Harvard Vanguard Burlington practice. She received her medical degree from West China University of Medical Sciences, Chengdu. Dr. Yang completed both her internship and residency at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston. She has a strong interest in preventative medicine. Dr. Yang is a fellow of American College of Physician.

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