Intermittent Fasting and Cardiovascular Health
Category: Health & Wellness
Intermittent Fasting and Cardiovascular Health
While researchers continue to uncover the cardio-protective effects of food, there is new evidence that the timing of meals may play a role in supporting a healthy heart. This evidence suggests that narrowing the window in which you consume meals by engaging in a 12-16 hour overnight fast can not only promote improved body composition but also affect longevity. Emerging studies show that the liver and other organs have their own diurnal rhythms that affect metabolism, which may correlate to the unfavorable effects of late night snacks and meals.1
Research has demonstrated this regimen of routine fasting is advantageous for many aspects of health including the cardiovascular system. One study found that fasting not only lowers the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, but also leads to significant positive changes in serum cholesterol levels.2
Moreover, fasting improves survival from myocardial ischemia through pro-angiogenic and anti-apoptotic effects.3,4 Intermittent fasting has also been found to improve autophagy in arteries, a mechanism that is often impaired in older individuals.3 This is a cellular self-cleansing process that rids cells of waste. It has been shown that impaired autophagy leads to reduced endothelial function. People who have had a heart attack also show lower levels of autophagy.3
Further cardioprotective mechanisms of intermittent fasting are emerging, including resistance to ischemic injury possibly associated with increases in levels of adiponectin.4,5 Adiponectin is a hormone involved in regulating glucose levels as well as fatty acid breakdown. Intermittent fasting modulates the levels of visceral fat and several adipokines, including leptin, IL-6, TNF-a and IGF-1.5 Effectively, in response to a period of fasting, the body releases more cholesterol and fatty acids, thus using fat as a source of fuel, instead of glucose. This decreases the number of adipose cells in the body, improves circulating glucose levels and reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance.
Such periods of fasting can also moderate inflammation by attenuating pro-inflammatory cytokines and immune cells. In addition, studies suggest that metabolic efficiency is improved when oxidative stress is reduced. The decreased accumulation of oxidative radicals in cells helps ward off damage to cellular proteins and nucleic acids, which up-regulates the expression of certain genes, increases the capacity to cope with stress and resist disease and aging.2
Fasting, therefore, not only results in lower insulin levels and an elevation of adiponectin, but it also reverses complications associated with metabolic syndrome by suppressing inflammation and stimulating autophagy. Aside from these benefits and the optimization of body composition, fasting has the ability to reduce hunger and sugar cravings by increasing leptin sensitivity and reducing grehlin levels.6 Diminishing the desire to consume unhealthy processed foods further improves cardiovascular function.
Intermittent fasting is different from fad diets. It's actually a lifestyle shift that allows one to live and eat well without sacrifices. However, it is important to note that it is still important to choose healthy foods and avoid or minimize the intake of carbs and sugars. Additionally, it is important to discuss such a lifestyle change with a doctor prior to initiation.
- Wang, Jingkui, et al. “Nuclear Proteomics Uncovers Diurnal Regulatory Landscapes in Mouse Liver.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 25, no. 1, 2017, pp. 102–117.
- Fontana L, Villareal DT, Weiss EP, et al. Calorie restriction or exercise: effects on coronary heart disease risk factors. A randomized, controlled trial. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007;293:E197–202
- LaRocca, Thomas J., et al. “Translational Evidence That Impaired Autophagy Contributes to Arterial Ageing.” The Journal of Physiology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 24 July 2012, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/jphysiol.2012.229690/full.
- Katare RG, Kakinuma Y, Arikawa M, et al. Chronic intermittent fasting improves the survival following large myocardial ischemia by activation of BDNF/VEGF/PI3K signaling pathway. J Molec Cell Cardiol. 2009;46:405–12.
- Wan R, Ahmet I, Brown M, et al. Cardioprotective effect of intermittent fasting is associated with an elevation of adiponectin levels in rats. J Nutrit Biochem. 2010;21: 413-7.
- Varady KA, Bhutani S, Church EC, Klempel MC. Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90:1138–1143.
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