Mark W. Cannon
A path-breaking study of fasting by the Intermountain Medical Center produced an astonishing finding that Mormon-type fasting causes a 40 percent reduction of risk for dreaded Coronary Artery Disease.
The potential prevention of pain, death and cost are enormous. Heart attacks, 99+% of which are based on coronary artery disease, are the leading cause of death in the United States and other industrialized nations -- with a total estimated U.S. cost of $165.4 billion in 2009 according to the American Heart Association.
Through statistical regression analysis, fasting was separated from other health-influencing factors such as physical activity, smoking, socio-economic status and frequent church attendance which were controlled to obtain the amazing conclusion that what could be described as Mormon-type fasting, all by itself, cut coronary artery disease almost in half.
These surprising results were presented to the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Nov. 2007 by lead researcher Benjamin Horne, PhD, MPH, who directs Cardiovascular and Genetic Epidemiology at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City. This caused excitement and was one of a few presentations that produced a press release by AHA. In 2008, the American Journal of Cardiology published the full results in an article by 14 researchers (both non-Mormon and Mormon) who had worked on the study and wanted to be identified with this breakthrough.
Dr. Horne believes a 24-hour fast “may allow the body to rest and reset metabolism, increasing the body’s sensitivity to glucose and insulin.” He cautions that the ”compelling findings” on fasting do not apply to random skipping of meals. In our interview, Dr. Horne indicated that he was doing follow-up studies on fasting, including its relationship to genes that affect health.
In this major study, patients were asked: “Do you routinely abstain from food and drink (i.e., fast) for extended periods of time?" Dr. Horne observed that “the vast majority of patients who reported fasting routinely were of the LDS faith and, thus, their definition of fasting of 24 hours would be primarily what is represented in the results of the study.”
This discovery illustrates that faithful obedience to a divine commandment may produce one of the remarkable fruits of Mormonism, in this case protection against a deadly disease. However, it may take over a Century and a half for a scientific discovery of that causal relationship.
Earlier studies by the University of Utah had found that the rate of death from coronary artery disease in Utah was lower, age-adjusted, among Mormons than the rest of the population. This was thought to be primarily from many Mormons being non-smokers. Dr. Horne’s team showed that smoking was not the sole source of decreased coronary heart disease among LDS. So they analyzed all differentiating LDS behaviors and in 2002 concluded that fasting was the most likely to have an effect on metabolic health. So they tested this hypothesis.
They knew of no earlier similar studies. Previous fasting studies had evaluated its relationship to body mass, hypertension, etc. Even the researchers were impressed by the magnitude of the effect of fasting.
No others than Dr. Horne’s team are known to have pursued this remarkable finding with additional research. Dr. Horne explains that strikingly new scientific discoveries often take considerable time to be widely understood and put to use.
This team is now studying how fasting works to affect metabolic health. They are running a clinical trial of 40 persons doing 28-hour water-only fasts to evaluate gene and other more standard markers of cardiovascular and metabolic risk. Also some animal studies, done during or since their basic study, found that periodic fasting called by scientists “short term starvation” prolonged the lives of mice, roundworms and yeast. So the team is studying 4,000 patients to see if gene mutations in them are similar to the changes that were caused by fasting of the life forms that were tested. Such studies could lead to finding other methods in addition to fasting of preventing deadly cardiovascular disease.
Preliminary results are expected to be made public from these new studies by the end of 2010.
Mark W. Cannon was AdministrativeAassistant to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Staff Director to the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. He has a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Government from Harvard University. Danielle Stockton was co-editor of the student newspaper and the literary magazine at Madeira School and currently is a student at BYU. This article is posted to their blog, www.fruitsofmormonism.com.