Intermittent fasting could ‘increase risk of heart disease’, study says

By Staff 9 Min Read

A new study has found that people who eat all their meals in an eight-hour window are more likely to die of heart disease, compared to those who eat across a longer period of time

The latest dieting fad of fasting intermittently might be harmful to your heart, warns a shocking new study. Fasting intermittently is when people only eat during certain times of the day and it has become increasingly popular recently, with wellness enthusiasts and celebrities praising its weight loss and health benefits.

However, a new study says we should tread lightly, discovering that some intermittent fasters were more prone to dying from heart disease, according to the findings presented at an American Heart Association meeting in Chicago. These focused on a common version of intermittent fasting where people consumed their daily meals within an eight-hour window, leaving them fasting for at least 16 hours, often referred to as “time-restricted” eating.

This fresh research scrutinised the dietary habits of 20,000 adults throughout America, tracking them from 2003 to 2018. And the results were concerning. Those sticking to the eight-hour eating regimen faced a 91 percent greater risk of succumbing to heart disease than those who spread their food consumption across 12 to 16 hours each day. Not surprisingly, this increased risk also reached out to those already suffering from a severe illness or cancer.

If you have heart issues already, following an eating pattern constrained to time represents a 66 percent higher risk of passing away due to heart disease or having a stroke. And for those battling cancer, you’re in a worse position if you’re on a time-restricted diet compared to those cancer patients who stick to an eating duration of at least 16 hours a day.

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The lead author of the study, Victor Wenze Zhong, who is also the chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China, has warned that people who do intermittent fasting for a long time should be “extremely cautious,” especially if they have heart conditions or cancer. He stressed that it seems more important to focus on what people eat rather than when they eat.

Zhong explained that he and his team carried out this new study because they wanted to understand how eating within a limited time each day would affect serious health issues like heart disease and death. He admitted that their findings took them by surprise. He said: “We had expected that long-term adoption of eight-hour time-restricted eating would be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular death and even all-cause death.”

The study didn’t reveal why eating within a certain time frame could be harmful to your health. However, it did show that people who ate only during an eight-hour window and fasted for 16 hours had less muscle mass than those who ate throughout the day. This matches up with another study that found that people on a time-restricted diet lost more muscle than those not fasting.

Keeping your muscles strong as you get older is really important as it helps protect you from falls and can improve your overall health. Research has shown that having low muscle mass can lead to a higher risk of dying, including from heart disease, said Zhong.

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But Zhong pointed out that these findings aren’t set in stone. The study found a link between eating within a certain time frame and a higher risk of death, but it didn’t prove one caused the other. For example, it’s possible that people who only ate within an eight-hour window had other habits or risks that could explain their higher chance of dying from heart disease.

The scientists also mentioned that the study was based on what people said they ate, so it’s possible they didn’t always report their eating times accurately. One type of intermittent fasting involves alternating days of normal eating with days of fasting.

The 5:2 diet is an example of this, where you eat normally for five days and fast for two. However, time-restricted eating is often seen as the easiest form of intermittent fasting to stick to because it doesn’t involve full-day fasts or extreme food restrictions. People following this diet can eat or drink whatever they like during an eight-hour window each day but must avoid eating at other times.

Early studies on time-restricted eating found that it helped prevent obesity and metabolic syndrome in mice. This was followed by small clinical trials in humans, which showed that time-restricted eating could help people lose weight and improve their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. However, these studies were short-term, usually lasting one to three months, and sometimes showed no benefit.

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