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Study: Fasting stimulates HGH, good for heart and overall health

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

In findings that build on previous studies, researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute say fasting at regular intervals promotes heart health and lowers the chances of developing diabetes and coronary artery disease. The researchers say fasting also stimulates levels of HGH, or human growth hormone, that can protect lean muscle mass.

Periodic fasting protects lean muscle mass, lowers cholesterol and stimulates HGH
Human growth hormone is a protein that the scientists say is stimulated during fasting. In their study, the hormone increased an average of 1,300 percent in women, and nearly 2,000 percent in men. HGH is important for maintaining muscle mass, immune function, breaking down fat in the body, maintaining strong bones and for glucose regulation.

Fasting lowers chance of common diseases
The researchers say the new findings support past studies. Dr. Benjamin D. Horne, PhD, MPH, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, and the study's principal investigator says fasting could lower the chances of developing common diseases.

"The confirmation among a new set of patients that fasting is associated with lower risk of these common diseases raises new questions about how fasting itself reduces risk or if it simply indicates a healthy lifestyle."

Dr. Horne explains fasting produces hunger that releases cholesterol, allowing the body to use fat as fuel. The result of fewer fat cells is reduced risk of diabetes from insulin resistance. The findings were presented at the 2011 annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans.

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Fasting studies
For the 2011 study 30 patients were followed who drank only water and ate nothing for 24 hours The researchers enrolled 200 individuals for two separate trials who were patients and healthy volunteers and recruited at the Intermountain Medical Center. The researchers compared results of lab work and physical exams during fasting and periods of eating.

The first studies were conducted in 2007 by the team and included 4500 individuals. The finding suggested a 39 percent lower chance of coronary artery disease and was conducted among Mormons who routinely fast. The new trials add evidence that fasting is healthy and could lower the chances of heart disease and diabetes.

In the 2011 studies, the researchers found study participants who fasted for 24 hours and drank only water had elevated levels of HGH, a 14 percent increase in "good" HDL cholesterol and a 6 percent increase in "bad" LDL cholesterol that the scientists say reduces fat cells, lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

The researchers note more studies are needed to understand the effects on the body before making any specific recommendations. Dr. Horne suggests fasting may one day be prescribed as a prevention treatment for coronary artery disease and diabetes. It's important to speak with your physician before engaging in a fasting program. Some people with low blood pressure, on certain medications and with certain medical conditions may not be able to abstain from eating for 24 hours.

Intermountain Heart Center

This article updated July 2, 2013.