Fasting & Heart Disease
The 15th of July 1993 is not a day that I am likely to forget. It was the day that my beloved father passed away from a sudden heart attack and as a result, became another statistic in the ever-increasing list of those affected by cardiovascular disease.
‘Coronary heart disease (CHD) – Disease that affects the main arteries supplying blood to the heart and is one of the UK’s leading causes of death and the most common cause of premature death. It is also the leading cause of death worldwide. CHD is responsible for around 63,000 deaths in the UK each year. This amounts to an average of 170 deaths each day, or one death around every eight minutes.’
These are very shocking and disturbing figures. These unfortunate events may affect each and every individual, whether that be someone’s brother, sister, father, mother or maybe even a child. To understand how fasting can play a positive role in maintaining a healthy heart, we need to have a core understanding of what heart disease is all about.
Let us start with that!
What contributes to CHD?
1) High blood pressure (HBP) medically known as Hypertension
‘People with HBP are more likely to develop coronary artery disease, because HBP puts added force against the artery walls. Over time, this extra pressure can damage the arteries, making them more vulnerable to the narrowing and plaque buildup associated with atherosclerosis. The narrowed artery limits or blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle, depriving the heart of oxygen.’
“Diabetes harms your heart in several major ways,” says Dr. Benjamin Scirica, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It causes chronic inflammation (activation of the immune system) and high levels of blood sugar (glucose). Both conditions injure the walls of the arteries, making them more prone to developing atherosclerosis. Elevated blood sugar also stiffens the arteries so they don’t expand as well, and makes blood platelets stickier and more likely to form blood clots. Diabetes can also cause scar tissue to form in the heart muscle.
‘When you breathe in cigarette smoke, the blood that is distributed to the rest of the body becomes contaminated with the smoke’s chemicals. These chemicals can do damage to your heart and blood vessels, which can lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD)’
In addition to permanently damaging your heart and blood vessels, cigarette smoke can also cause CVD by changing your blood chemistry and causing plaque (a waxy substance comprised of cholesterol, scar tissue, calcium, fat, and other material) to build up in the arteries – the major blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your body. This plaque buildup can lead to a disease called atherosclerosis.
4) High Cholesterol
Conventional wisdom indicates that: ‘High blood cholesterol is a significant risk factor for developing heart and circulatory diseases.’ However, recently this topic has been found to be more complex than simply reducing your cholesterol levels. By looking at a variety of sources, we can develop a broad and comprehensive perspective on our conventional understanding of the role that cholesterol plays.
Feeling constantly stressed could also increase your risk of heart and circulatory disease. According to a study in the medical journal ‘The Lancet 2017’: “When the region of the brain called the Amygdala, involved in cognition and emotion, is consistently stimulated it responds by signalling the bone marrow to produce extra White Cells”. This in turn causes the arteries to become inflamed, and as we know, inflammation is another key factor in causing heart disease.
6) Other factors could possibly include:
- Lack of exercise
- Air Pollution
Now we have a core understanding of the factors involved in CHD and CVD. So, let us expand on how does fasting play a role in mitigating these factors.
Most faiths prescribe some type of fasting. In Islam, fasting occurs in the month of Ramadan. Typically, it is for 30 days and each day the duration is from dawn until dusk. Fasting as prescribed in Islam is a form of Intermittent Fasting (IF) – in which food is only consumed in a narrow window of time. So, what does Science say about Intermittent fasting?
Bartosz Malinowski et al in their Overview paper write that Weight loss, Lipid metabolism (Triglycerides, LDL), Inflammatory Biomarkers, Blood pressure, Diabetes (especially Type 2) are all positively affected by Intermittent fasting.
In fact, Aksungar et al conducted a trial in which 40 participants who had just completed Ramadan took part in. In conclusion to their study, they write: ‘Our results demonstrate that prolonged intermittent fasting in a model like Ramadan has some positive effects on the inflammatory status of the body and on the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as homocysteine, CRP and TC/HDL ratio.’
In summary of their Overview paper, Bartosz Malinski et al write: ‘The IF diet limits many risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases and therefore the occurrence of these diseases………. [ ]……it decreases body mass and has a positive influence on lipid profile parameters it reduces the concentration of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol.’
In conclusion of their review article Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D. and Mark P. Mattson, Ph.D. write: ‘Preclinical studies and clinical trials have shown that intermittent fasting has broad-spectrum benefits for many health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and neurologic disorders.’
So, scientific research is showing that fasting in the form prescribed by Islam is indeed incredibly beneficial for the heart and circulatory system. IF is having a direct and positive impact on the key causes of heart disease.
In the Quran it is written:
“Eat and drink, but be not immoderate: surely, He does not love those who are immoderate.” (7:32)
“O Ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.” (2:184)
To conclude, it would appear from the information presented that fasting in Islam falls into the category of IF. It is clear that scientific research is continually validating fasting. What is also very clear is that the Holy book of Islam, The Quran, has highlighted the fact that we should moderate ourselves when it comes to food consumption and that fasting is vital. In fact, the word ‘prescribed’ has been used in the same way that a medic would prescribe a course of treatment for an ailing patient. A final word on this comes from The Quran:
“And fasting is good for you, if only you knew.” (2:185)
- British Heart Foundation: UK Factsheet March 2021: https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics
- WebMD: High Blood Pressure and Atherosclerosis. Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 24, 2020: https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/atherosclerosis#1-1
- Harvard Health Publishing: The diabetes – heart connection and what it means for you: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-diabetes-heart-disease-connection-and-what-it-means-for-you
- FDA: How smoking affects heart health: https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-information/how-smoking-affects-heart-health
- Circulation: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000743
- Students for best evidence: https://s4be.cochrane.org/blog/2018/07/02/cholesterol-and-heart-disease-whats-the-evidence/
- Dr Aseem Malhotra: https://doctoraseem.com/reversing-heart-diseases-starts-stopping-fear-cholesterol/
- The Lancet: Relation between resting amygdala activity and cardiovascular events: a longitudinal and cohort study: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)31714-7/fulltext
- Harvard Health Publishing: Targeting inflammation: A missing link in heart treatments: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/targeting-inflammation-a-missing-link-in-heart-treatments
- National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6471315/
- Aksungar F.B., Topkaya A.E., Akyildiz M. Interleukin-6, C-reactive protein and biochemical parameters during prolonged intermittent fasting: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17374948/
- The New England Journal of Medicine: Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmra1905136
- The Holy Quran: 2002 edition