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The Risks of Intermittent Fasting on Heart Health

March 18, 2024 from the Washington Post

Intermittent fasting, a dietary approach where individuals eat within a specific time window each day, has seen a surge in popularity as a simple weight management strategy. However, recent research highlights potential risks, especially concerning heart health, that warrant a cautious approach.

A study presented at an American Heart Association meeting in Chicago reveals that individuals adhering to an eight-hour eating window had a staggering 91% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who spread their meals across 12 to 16 hours daily. This data was gathered from an analysis of 20,000 adults in the U.S. from 2003 to 2018. The research also noted a 66% higher risk of heart disease or stroke deaths among those with existing cardiovascular conditions who followed this diet.

Further insights from the study indicate that long-term practitioners of this diet, especially those with chronic diseases like cancer, face increased mortality risks. Victor Wenze Zhong, lead author and chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, emphasized that the quality of diet might be more crucial than the timing of meals.

The research also explored physical impacts, noting that those on a 16:8 intermittent fasting regimen, eating within an eight-hour window and fasting for 16, tended to have less lean muscle mass. This finding aligns with earlier clinical trials published in JAMA Internal Medicine, indicating that time-restricted eating could lead to greater muscle loss compared to non-fasting groups. Since maintaining muscle mass is vital for metabolic health and reducing disability and mortality risks, this is a significant concern.

While intermittent fasting can offer short-term benefits like weight loss and improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol, the evidence remains mixed. A comprehensive study on time-restricted eating featured in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2022 revealed that obese individuals adhering to a low-calorie diet confined to eating between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. did not lose more weight than those consuming the same number of calories at any time throughout the day. Both dietary approaches yielded comparable outcomes in terms of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and other metabolic indicators.

Christopher Gardner, director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, advises a “healthy skepticism” towards these findings. He highlights the need for more comprehensive data that considers variables like socioeconomic status and stress levels, which can influence outcomes.

Gardner explained that the evidence backing intermittent fasting for weight loss and other health benefits is inconsistent, with some research indicating short-term advantages while other studies find no significant effects. He further commented, “One of the challenges in nutrition is that just because something works really well for a few people doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone.”


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