Third in a three-part seriesScientific research is proving that a monthly Mormon fast — going
without food and water for a 24-hour period — reduces the risk of
coronary heart disease.
Benjamin D. Horne, a doctor who directs cardiovascular and genetic
epidemiology at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City,
presented the findings at the American Heart Association's Scientific
Sessions during a November 2007 conference in Florida.
The Intermountain Heart Collaborative Study sought to explain why
research from the 1970s revealed that Mormons generally have lower rates
of heart disease when compared to the United States national average.
Horne wanted to verify that Mormons did have lower heart disease death
rates, and then discover what caused the decrease.
Horne said going without food or water for a 24-hour period "may allow
the body to rest and reset metabolism, increasing the body's sensitivity
to glucose and insulin." However, Horne said the "compelling findings"
on Mormon fasting do not apply to random skipping of meals.
Church members are encouraged to fast two consecutive meals, refraining
from food and drink, usually on the first Sunday of each month. The
money that would have been used to purchase those meals is donated to
help the poor — a practice referred to as fast offerings.
By statistical analysis, the study examined how fasting was separated
from other health-influencing factors such as physical activity,
smoking, socio-economic status and frequent church attendance. Patients
were asked questions like: "Do you routinely abstain from food and drink
(i.e., fast) for extended periods of time?"
Horne observed that "the vast majority of patients who reported fasting
routinely were members 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."
The study showed a 40 percent decrease in the risk of heart disease as a
result of fasting.Comment on this story
Horne's team is now studying how fasting works to affect metabolic
health. The research could lead to finding other methods, in addition to
fasting, of preventing deadly cardiovascular disease. Preliminary
results should be available to the public by 2011.
The church highlighted the research with an lds.org article in 2007.
Mark W. Cannon holds a doctorate in political economy and government from Harvard University. Danielle
Stockton was editor of the
student newspaper at Madeira School in Virginia; she now