Researchers at the University of Utah, who studied members of a Mormon community that foregoes food for a day every month for religious reasons, found they have lower rates of heart disease.
The researchers, whose findings were presented Monday at the ongoing American Heart Association's scientific session, said the benefits hold equally good for those who fast for health reasons.
The Utah Mormons, also called the Latter-Day Saints (LDS), have long been studied for their lower rates of heart disease, but most researchers have focussed on their avoidance of tobacco -- again for religious reasons.
The latest study sought to identify any other religious practice that may also contribute to their healthier hearts.
"When we adjusted for smoking, or looked just at the non-smokers, we still found a lower rate of CAD (coronary artery disease) in people having an LDS religious preference," the researchers said. "We thought this was very interesting, so we devised a survey about other behaviours associated with LDS that might bring a health benefit.
"Fasting was the strongest predictor of lower heart disease risk in the people we surveyed. About eight percent of the people who fasted did not express an LDS religious preference, and they also had less coronary disease."
While this doesn't prove that fasting is the cause of having healthier arteries, it does suggest that it is an important, and new, hypothesis.