Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Centre’s Heart Institute in Utah have undertaken a new study looking at the impact of regular fasting on the risks of developing diabetes and heart disease. They have suggested that fasting can be beneficial. Utah is unique because of its sizeable Mormon population, making this an ideal setting for the study – Mormons customarily fast at least once a month, and this seems to be producing concrete health benefits over long periods.

Dr Benhamin Horne, a member of the research team, said that the fall in the number of people smoking has led to lower rates of cardiac mortality in most states, but that the rate in Utah was significantly lower still. Of course, some other religious groups fast as well, but the Mormon’s are fairly unique in terms of the regular nature of the ritual.

The study’s conclusions are simple. When people fast, their bodies are forced to burn fat as a source of energy, which lowers the total number of fat cells present. That means cholesterol levels are reduced, and insulin sensitivity is increased (meaning a lower risk of diabetes).

This research has its roots in a 2007 study, which established a link between fasting and a decreased risk of heart disease. Researchers now claim to have found evidence that fasting can have a favourable impact on body weight in addition to blood sugar and triglyceride levels. Nevertheless, there remains a lack of research into the health benefits of fasting, and doctors are keen to explore this area further. They are especially interested in finding out whether fasting might be advantageous for people already suffering from heart disease or diabetes.

Despite the positive messages about fasting that have come out of this study, it’s important to be aware of the fact that fasting comes with its own risks – it can actually be harmful in many situations. If you want to ensure your health in later life, there are plenty of other, better-researched things you can do. If you are considering fasting at all, it’s crucial that you consult your doctor beforehand.

Find out more about managing diabetes.