SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fast as a way to grow closer to God, but Utah medical researchers want to know whether the practice is also reducing their risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Researchers at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray are seeking 12 study participants with metabolic issues, such as high blood sugar or obesity, who will fast for six 24-hours periods over five weeks. A second phase of the planned study will include 200 more participants, possibly from other states.
“We expect people that are likely to be diagnosed with diabetes would benefit most by this study,” said Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Heart Institute at IMC.
For Horne, who’s been studying the effects of fasting for the past few years and has published three studies on the topic since 2008, Utah provides a fertile testing ground.
The Mormon church encourages members to skip food and water for 24 hours, or two meals, each month on a designated fast Sunday. The church teaches that the discipline, along with sincere prayer, prepares a person spiritually to receive God’s blessings.
Studies have long tied Utah’s high Mormon population to the state’s low heart attack rate, because few residents smoke. But Californians have stopped smoking in droves since the 1960s and 1970s, without much change in the heart attack rate.
“We started thinking there may be other factors that are unique to the behavior of Utahns,” Horne said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “Fasting really stood out.”
Horne said he expects the study will show fasting helps by recalibrating a person’s metabolism and re-sensitizing the body to insulin.
“We’re looking for people who are willing to try fasting to see if it is something that will benefit their health and the health of others like them, that are on the verge of having diabetes,” he said.