Intermittent Fasting devotees at risk of heart disease? No need to press the pause button

17 Apr 2024 06:00pm
Lunch time concept, clock in plate, knife and fork
Lunch time concept, clock in plate, knife and fork

Intermittent fasting (IF), which entails various meal timing schedules that cycle between voluntary fasting and non-fasting over a given period is nothing unfamiliar, especially to health advocates, athletes, and women aiming for weight loss.

It has been hyped over social media due to its health-promoting effects - effective weight loss, helps with fasting insulin levels and blood glucose levels as well as increasing muscle mass.

However, a recent study presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention│Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Scientific Sessions 2024, revealed that people practising intermittent fasting are 91 per cent more likely to develop fatal cardiovascular disease.

The risk applies to those who followed the popular intermittent fasting 16:8 method, which is fasting for 16 hours and an eating window of 8 hours.

National Heart Institute (IJN) Cardiologist Dr David Yong said the link between eating habits and heart diseases is complex and there is no strong data to prove this since the full study hasn’t been released yet.

He shared that the study is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

From a medical perspective, he said the possibility of IF causing heart disease should take two factors into account - the diet regimes of those doing IF and the reason they do it.

Some of them practise it due to medical problems or health issues, meaning that they are at high risk of disease, to begin with.

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From the study, a health expert said that the research clearly shows that, compared with a typical eating time range of 12-16 hours per day, a shorter eating duration was not associated with living longer.

National Heart Institute (IJN) Cardiologist Dr David Yong
National Heart Institute (IJN) Cardiologist Dr David Yong

Dr David commented that with the data present now, such a conclusion cannot be reached because it is not enough to predict the life expectancy of those doing intermittent fasting.

He highlighted that what they eat is more crucial than the duration of their eating time.

“I think rather than the duration of time they eat, what matters is what they eat instead. For those doing intermittent fasting, what’s important is their food choices and also what they eat after the IF duration,” he told Sinar Daily.

Should we take a pause on intermittent fasting? It's not necessary, but Dr David advised to be cautious with our eating habits as well as the quality of food we consume take. He added that consulting with doctors before adopting any diets like IF is a smart move.

He also shared tips to avoid heart diseases which are educating yourself on what food is good for your health. Look before you eat, because lots of time we tend to eat first and think later.

Other than that, stop unhealthy habits like smoking and do more moderate-intensity exercise, which is good for your heart. Try 120 minutes of exercise a week - cycling, playing badminton, and swimming.

Lastly, he advised that for you to know your numbers. It would be good for you to be aware of your weight, blood pressure, sugar level as well as cholesterol level and from that, see what you can do to improve your health.

Dietetics and nutrition consultancy company Diet Ideas expert Mohd. Siddeq Azha Bin Azahari shed light on the concern by sharing that practising intermittent fasting with consideration to meal quality, weight status, sleep quality, and other lifestyle factors will prove to be just as similar to a normal eating pattern with the same qualities.

He encouraged those who wish to continue practicing IF to do so as the protocol itself bears little harm on its own - again, providing that other qualities are well preserved.

Addressing the risk of heart disease from the study, he said it is important to look into the details since the full study itself has yet to be released.

“A few notable aspects is that the study involves only a two-day dietary recall (typical food intake), which may not truly be telling of a person’s overall quality of food intake.

“Additionally, other confounding factors such as weight status, sleep quality, and more are not yet explicitly detailed to rule out the other possibilities that may lead to the risk of cardiovascular and heart disease. In short, causation and correlation play a big question here,” he said.

He further assured those who might need to pause their intermittent fasting that their weight loss journey can still be maintained. Still, take note of employing different adjustments as they introduce back a meal into their daily intake.

For Malaysians specifically, Siddeq recommended the typical three meals a day eating routine if there is a need for a substitute for intermittent fasting. This local culture, lifestyle, and upbringing will build a steady pace on their effort for a healthier diet.

Dietetics and nutrition consultancy company Diet Ideas expert Mohd. Siddeq Azha Bin Azahari
Dietetics and nutrition consultancy company Diet Ideas expert Mohd. Siddeq Azha Bin Azahari

With the Eid celebrations in full force, he shared that his favourite question to ask his clients practising IF is if they would rather forgo festivities involving a scrumptious breakfast or any of occasions that may affect their social and psychological health, to stick to the IF routine.

He said there is no wrong answer to that and whatever diet they decide to go to reach their nutritional health goals - whether it be intermittent fasting, keto, or plant-based diets, it all comes down to what is best for each individual.