Study: Intermittent Fasting Associated with Less Severe COVID-19 Complications

People who regularly fasted for decades had lower risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19, adding to the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting.

People who regularly fast are less likely to experience severe complications from COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), according to a recent study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

COVID-19 patients who practiced regular water-only intermittent fasting were found to have lower risk of hospitalization or death due to the virus compared with patients who did not. Previous research has identified health benefits of intermittent fasting, including lowered risk of diabetes and heart disease, according to the study authors.

“Intermittent fasting has already 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 Benjamin Horne, PhD, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Healthcare, in a statement.

Researchers from Intermountain Healthcare identified patients who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 before vaccines were readily available, between March 2020 and February 2021. Patients were sourced from the INSPIRE registry, a voluntary health registry at Intermountain Healthcare.

The study included 205 patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, of whom 73 said they regularly fasted at least once a month. Patients who said they regularly fasted did so for an average of more than 40 years, many for religious reasons, allowing researchers to study a specific cohort of long-time intermittent fasters.

The researchers found that those who practiced regular fasting had a lower rate of hospitalization or death due to coronavirus.

“Intermittent fasting was not associated with whether or not someone tested positive COVID-19, but it was associated with lower severity once patients had tested positive for it,” Horne said.

The authors note that more research is needed to understand why intermittent fasting is associated with better COVID-19 outcomes. However, they suggest that the association is likely due to the variety of ways that intermittent fasting affects the body. One benefit may be that fasting reduces inflammation, with hyperinflammation found to be associated with poor COVID-19 outcomes.

Additionally, after 12 to 14 hours of fasting, the body switches from using glucose in the blood to ketones including linoleic acid.

“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 explained.

Intermittent fasting also promotes autophagy, “the body’s recycling system that helps your body destroy and recycle damaged and infected cells,” according to Horne.

Despite these potential benefits, the authors suggest that anyone who wants to consider the practice of intermittent fasting should consult their physicians first, especially those who are elderly, pregnant, or have conditions such as diabetes, heart, or kidney disease.

The authors stress that these results come from a cohort who has practiced intermittent fasting for decades, not weeks. They also note that intermittent fasting should not be seen as an alternative to vaccination for COVID-19.

“It should be further evaluated for potential short and long-term preventative or therapeutic use as a complementary approach to vaccines and anti-viral therapies for reducing COVID-19 severity,” Horne concluded.

Reference

Study finds people who practice intermittent fasting experience less severe complications from COVID-19. EurekAlert. News Release. July 7, 2022. Accessed July 8, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/958151.