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Intermittent Fasting May Increase Risk of Cardiovascular Death, Research Finds

Only allowing yourself to eat during an eight-hour period of the day may increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease in the long term, new research has found.

The practice of intermittent fasting — which has been touted for its short-term health benefits — may actually have a far more negative impact on long-term heart health than previously understood. According to preliminary research, following an eight-hour time-restricted eating schedule increases the risk of death by cardiovascular disease by 91% compared to those who spread out their eating throughout an entire day.

The new study, which analyzed data from over 20,000 United States adults, found that those who restricted their food intake to just eight hours per day were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who ate throughout 12-16 hours. The preliminary research was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention│Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Scientific Sessions 2024 meeting earlier this week.

Time-restricted intermittent fasting involves only eating throughout a set number of hours during the day and fasting for the rest, with the eating window ranging from anywhere between four and 12 hours, and eight hours being the most common time frame. While previous research has shown that this way of eating can help improve blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels, and help people lose weight — the long-term impacts have been largely unknown.

To better understand the effects, researchers analyzed information about dietary habits from participants of the annual 2003-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) and compared it to data about people who died between 2003 and 2019 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Death Index database.

They found that those who restricted their eating to eight hours per day or less had a 91% higher risk of death due to cardiovascular disease, an increased risk that was also observed in people living with heart disease or cancer.

For those who already had cardiovascular disease, eating during a period between eight and 10 hours per day was also linked to a 66% higher risk of death from heart disease or stroke.

The researchers ultimately found that intermittent fasting did not lessen the overall risk of death from any cause and that eating throughout more than 16 hours of the day was actually associated with a lower risk of cancer mortality among people with cancer.

Senior study author Victor Wenze Zhong, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in Shanghai, China, said in a news release that he and his fellow researchers were surprised by the results of their research.

“Even though this type of diet has been popular due to its potential short-term benefits, our 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,” Zhong said.

The research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal and is therefore considered preliminary. However the researchers said they hope their findings will encourage medical professionals to provide more personalized dietary recommendations that are based on an individual’s needs and scientific evidence.

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