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Fasting might help guard against severe COVID-19 symptoms

Nothing: It's what's for dinner.
Skipping meals regularly was found to reduce COVID severity.

Can fasting occasionally make people less likely to suffer severe COVID? A new study suggests it can.

Plenty of people – as well as the medical community – know some of the benefits of intermittent fasting, like lowered risk of diabetes and heart disease.

That benefit list is getting longer: Intermountain Healthcare researchers studying people who got COVID before vaccines were widely available found that people who fast also handle the virus better.

In a new study published this week, the researchers found that people who regularly fast experienced fewer severe complications from COVID.

Fasting means meaning taking in nothing but water for a full day. Intermittent fasting refers to doing that once a month.

The study utilized health data from 205 patients who had tested positive for the virus. Of those, 73 said they regularly fasted at least once a month. Researchers found that those who regularly fasted, meaning taking in nothing but water, had a lower rate of hospitalization or death due to coronavirus.

Dr. Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Healthcare, said fasting didn’t affect whether or not someone contracted COVID, just how severe their illness ended up being.

In the study, participants who said they regularly fasted had been doing so for an average of more than 40 years. Intermountain researchers were able to closely study this group because a large portion of its patients fast regularly for religious reasons.

Nearly 62 percent of Utah’s population belongs the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members typically fast the first Sunday of the month by going without food or drink for two consecutive meals.

While Horne said that more research is needed to understand why intermittent fasting is associated with better COVID outcomes, he said it’s most likely due to the ways that fasting affects the body.

For example, fasting reduces inflammation, and hyperinflammation is associated with poor COVID outcomes. In addition, after 12 to 14 hours of fasting, the body switches from using glucose in the blood to ketones.

Horne emphasized that anyone thinking of fasting should consult their doctors first, especially if they are elderly, pregnant, or have conditions like diabetes, heart, or kidney disease.