Intermittent fasting may reduce COVID-19 symptoms, new study says

Of the patients studied, those who practiced regular fasting, once only common in ancient religion but now a health trend, had a lower rate of hospitalization or death due to the virus.

 Intermittent fasting (illustrative) (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Intermittent fasting (illustrative)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Patients who practice regular water-only intermittent fasting may have a lower risk of hospitalization or death due to COVID-19 complications than patients who did not, according to a new study published this week in the peer-reviewed BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

The groundbreaking findings were conducted by researchers at Intermountain Health Care who examined 205 patients who had tested positive for the virus. Of those, 73 said they regularly fasted for about 24 hours at least once a month. Researchers found that those who practiced regular fasting had a lower rate of hospitalization or death due to the virus.

The study did not look at vaccination status. It was conducted before vaccines were widely available, between March 2020 and February 2021. 

What is intermittent fasting? 

Originally only common within ancient religious groups, intermittent fasting has gained popularity as a health trend in recent years. Celebrities such as Halle Berry, Terry Crews and Hugh Jackman have all spoken out about how they have benefited from intermittent fasting.

The research was conducted in Utah, where nearly 62 percent of the population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members typically fast on the first Sunday of the month by going without food or drink for two consecutive meals.

In Judaism, the practice is common on certain days, such as Yom Kippur when even water is prohibited for 25 hours. 

Studies have shown that fasting has an array of benefits, despite its main con - hunger. Benefits include lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease. 

Fasting can potentially also lead to weight loss. When humans fast, or simply don’t snack between meals, insulin drops, promoting weight loss and the idea behind intermittent fasting is to keep insulin low enough, long enough and force the body to burn fat, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Studies have shown that for humans intermittent fasting is “safe and incredibly effective,” Harvard Health Publishing reported.

A HEALTH worker administers a COVID test to a child at a Maccabi HMO clinic.  (credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)A HEALTH worker administers a COVID test to a child at a Maccabi HMO clinic. (credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)

Intermittent fasting is not for everyone 

Despite the positives, researcher Benjamin Horne, a cardiovascular and epidemiology physician, warned that intermittent fasting is not for everyone. He said the patients studied have been practicing fasting for years. People interested in starting should first consult a healthcare professional, especially if they are elderly, pregnant, or have conditions like diabetes or heart or kidney disease. 

The practice does not reduce the likelihood of contracting 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.

“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.”

Benjamin Horne, cardiovascular and epidemiology physician

Horne added: “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.” 

Rachel Wolf contributed to this report.