​​Is Intermittent Fasting The Key To Curbing Severe COVID?

Intermittent fasting has become more popular in the diet industry because it doesn't require people to change what they eat. According to Healthline, some methods of intermittent fasting include eating during a specified window each day or refraining from food altogether for a day or two per week. The logic of intermittent fasting stems from our prehistoric days when food was difficult to obtain. Our bodies knew how to survive several days without food, and our immune system adapted (via Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Although intermittent fasting has surged for its possible weight loss benefits, the practice might protect you from type 2 diabetes, excess inflammation, and cancer (via Healthline). According to a recent study in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, it might also reduce the severity of COVID-19. The study observed data from people who lived in Utah from March 2020 to February 2021, which was before any vaccine was available to most people. The study found that people who practiced periodic fasting — defined as fasting once a month for at least five years — were less likely to be hospitalized or die of COVID-19 complications than those who did not engage in periodic fasting. The participants who engaged in periodic fasting did so for more than 40 years, which suggests that long-term fasting might have benefits in fighting off infection.

How fasting might boost immunity

The study recognized that because fasting forces the body to use fat rather than glucose for energy, this process increases linoleic acid in the body. Linoleic acid binds with SARS-CoV-2 and limits its spread of infection. Fasting also boosts our body's ability to rid itself of debris in our cells.

Because this study looked at data from patients in Salt Lake City, Utah, the researchers noted that one-third of the patients practiced a 24-hour fast at least once a month, which is a common practice among practitioners of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. The researchers suggested that this monthly fast is more practical for the long term than the popular intermittent fasting used for weight loss.

This study was observational, which means that the researchers relied on the patients' reporting of their fasting practice. Therefore, the research couldn't show that it was fasting specifically that reduced COVID severity. Although any fasting practice cannot treat COVID-19, the study proposed periodic fasting over several decades could complement other methods of preventing disease.