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Periodic Fasting May Cut Risk of Heart Disease, Diabetes

Despite Health Benefits, Fasting May Not Be for Everyone, Doctors Say

Do Juice Fasts Count?

Many so-called “fasts”  -- such as "juice" fasts --  are widely promoted on the Internet.

Comparing the water-only fasts to these juice fasts is apples to oranges, Horne says.

“These juice fasts and cleanses could have a similar effect to caloric restriction,” he says. “In animal studies, reducing the amount of daily calories by 40% to 50% has a benefit on your heart, but it is not as strong of a benefit as [water-only] fasting,” he says.

“Fasting is not a quick fix, it’s a long-term lifestyle that you integrate into your normal life and do it for the duration,” says Horne, who says he fasts once a month.

Fasting is not for everyone. “There are some dangers for people that are at high risk for other conditions, women who are pregnant or lactating, and young children,” he says.

Other Views

Howard Weintraub, MD, clinical director of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, says that the findings of elevated LDL and total cholesterol in the face of reduced heart and diabetes risk warrant further investigation.

“We need a lot more information about this,” he says.

The new study “tells us that we eat too much and we don’t need to eat quite so much,” he says.  But “before I start advising my patients to fast, I need to see more information as to the other attributes of these study participants,” he says.

One of the dangers of an occasional fast is that it may be followed by a binge that negates all of the potential health benefits.

“It’s like having Diet Coke so you can have a cheeseburger,” he says. Or saying, “If I don't eat on Monday, no one will yell at me when I eat like a pig on Tuesday and Wednesday,” he says.

Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says you don’t need to fast to see beneficial changes in your heart disease risk factors.

“If you don’t eat bad foods, your profiles are better in terms of weight and blood pressure, and your triglycerides go down, and your blood sugar goes down,” she says, “Anything in the extreme is not the way to go. It’s how you eat on a daily basis that matters."

Her bottom line? “I don’t recommend fasting, but I do recommend getting rid of unhealthy foods in your diet as fast as you can.”

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