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Ja'Nel Johnson /

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Georgina Salgado Chavez, a Chicago naturopathic physician, suggests fasting with lemon water.


Fasting for more than cleansing: May cut chances of heart disease, diabetes

by Ja'Nel Johnson
April 12, 2011


Fasting triggers metabolic changes that may lead to long-term health benefits including lower chances of developing coronary disease and type 2 diabetes, Utah researchers told a national scientific meeting.

Dr. Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, said the biggest change fasting patients was in human growth hormone.

“If you’re not eating anything, HGH goes up substantially,” he said. “It’s antagonistic to the effects of insulin.”

Human growth hormone is a protein that protects lean muscle mass and increases the metabolism of fat cells. In women it increased by 1,300 percent and in men it increased by 2,000 percent during the 24-hour fasting period.

The research also revealed that fasting reduces triglyceride levels and low-density and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels temporarily. These fats play a role in heart disease and diabetes.

“The changes we saw were all consistent with the idea that there is a process going on with the body during fasting that puts stress on the body,” Horne said.

The study tested more than 200 patients and volunteers in a series of trials that included 30 volunteers drinking nothing but water for 24-hours. Seventy percent of participants were Mormons, who are taught to fast once a month for 24 hours, according to Horne.

The study followed up another performed in 2007 where researchers found that fasting reduced coronary disease. The new research also found that weight and blood sugar levels were also affected.

Horne said many adults could fast on a periodic basis, but he suggest consulting with their doctors first.

“We don’t know how frequent it ought to be or the major health benefits,” he said. “Those are questions we have to follow-up on.”

Dr. Lawrence Lerner, a downtown Chicago family physician, is opposed to fasting and said it’s never good for the body because it promotes ketosis, which means the pancreas releases insulin into the body.

“It hurts more than it helps,” he said. “You have to put nutrients in your body every day.”

There is more to fasting than one may think, according to Georgina Salgado Chavez, a South Side naturopathic physician and acupuncturist.

She recommends drinking water with lemon or honey for two or three days, but said it becomes harmful when taken to the extreme.

“Most people don’t have the nutritional levels that they should so some get bad results,” she said.

Chavez doesn’t promote fasting because she doesn’t want to put her patients at risk for below normal glucose levels or other adverse effects. Still, she said there are some benefits to fasting.

“You give the liver a rest, clean the blood and digest food better,” she said.

Horne said further research on the short-term and long-term health benefits of fasting on people who’ve never done it is to be performed through a grant from the Deseret Foundation which funds medical research, education, equipment and facilities throughout the Salt Lake City area.

“The main point going forward is that we need more information, but it looks very promising,” he said.