Coronavirus latest: Intermittent fasting may lower risk of severe illness says study

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Two new variants are causing fresh outbreaks of coronavirus across the UK. More infectious than previous strains, the new Omicron subvariants have proven more resilient to antibodies in the inoculated, and those who have previously had the virus. As cases climb, so are hospitalisation rates. New evidence, however, suggests our approach to eating could play a part in our risk of severe infection.

The new findings from the Intermountain Healthcare study, published in the British Medical Journal of Nutrition, Prevention and Health, have highlighted the benefits of intermittent fasting for Covid patients.

Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Healthcare, said in a news release: “You can imagine that during times of food scarcity, there were infectious diseases around.

“Being able to respond to those infectious diseases, when you’re still weakened from not having food, it would make a lot of sense… that fasting is involved in those mechanisms to protect against that infection.”

It had previously been known that intermittent fasting helped lower inflammation, protecting cardiovascular health.

Mr Horne added: “In this study, we’re finding additional benefits when it comes to battling an infection of COVID-19 in patients who have been fasting for decades.”

Researchers looked at more than 200 patients, who tested positive for COVID-19 before vaccines were widely available.

Of the 205 confirmed cases, 73 of the patients who said they fasted regularly, had a lower rate of hospitalisation or death due to coronavirus.

“Intermittent fasting was not associated with whether or not someone tested positive for COVID-19, but it was associated with lower severity once patients had tested positive for it,” noted Mr Horne.

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There are several potential mechanisms that confer protection in intermittent fasting.

One potential benefit is that it promotes autophagy, where the body’s recycling system helps the body destroy and recycle damage in infected cells.

Intermittent fasting also reduces the release of pro-inflammatory cells known as monocytes, which circulate in the blood.

Previous investigations have shown that during fasting periods, these cells go into sleep mode, and become less inflammatory.

Reducing this inflammatory response is important in COVID-19 since it is responsible for poor outcomes following infection.

MedicalXpress adds: “In addition, after 12 to 14 hours of fasting, the body switches from using glucose in the blood to ketones, including linoleic acid.”

This is important, added Mr Horne, because linoleic and COVID-19 interact.

The expert explained: “There’s a pocket on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 that linoleic acid fits into – and can make the virus less able to attach to other cells.”

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