A group of researchers from the University of Crete found that Greek Orthodox Christians who avoided specified foods three times a year had lower levels of cholesterol and lower levels of the cholesterol-binding proteins called low density lipoproteins (LDL), in their blood after 'fasting', compared with other Christians who did not follow the fasting regimes. The levels of other cholesterol-binding proteins called high-density lipoproteins (HDL) did not change.
"The Orthodox Christians' diet, which is based on vegetables, legumes, fruit, cereals, bread and olive oil, is a Mediterranean-type of diet with periodic abstinence from meat and other products during the fasting periods", write the authors.
There are three major recognised fasting periods in the Greek Orthodox Church: 40 days before Christmas, 48 days at Easter and 15 days in August for Assumption. Each of these is associated with a different regime. For example, at Christmas the faithful are advised to avoid meat, eggs and dairy products and eating fish is not allowed on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The Crete study followed 120 Greek Orthodox Christians, half of whom followed the regime to the letter. The researchers measured each of the participants at the beginning and end of each fast period, recording their height and weight, their waist and hip size and the level of cholesterol and lipoproteins in a blood sample.
There is a clear link between high levels of cholesterol and LDL in the blood and heart disease, whereas HDL appears to be protective against heart disease. Greek orthodox 'fasting' reduced the levels of total cholesterol in the blood by 9% and the levels of LDL by 12%. As the levels of HDL did not change significantly the HDL/LDL ratio increased, which is generally thought to be good for the heart. Unfortunately, these levels rose again as the fasters resumed eating their normal diet, but not to the original levels, showing that regular fasting may give some long-term protection against heart disease.
This article is freely available online, according to BioMed Central's policy of open access to research articles:
Effects of Greek Orthodox Christian Church fasting on serum lipids and obesity.
Katerina O Sarri, Nikolaos E Tzanakis, Manolis K Linardakis, George D Mamalakis and Anthony G Kafatos
BMC Public Health 2003 3:16 (published 16 May 2003)
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