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.

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 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

attends BYU.