Effect of prolonged fasting on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and apolipoprotein B in 12 physicians participating in a hunger strike: An observational study

M. Fainaru*, Z. Schafer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Dyslipidemia and obesity serve as risk factors for the development of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Fasting is sometimes recommended for treating these conditions. This study was undertaken to try to resolve conflicting results reported in the literature. Objectives: To study the effect of fasting (0 calories, with free intake of fluids) for 3-5 days on plasma concentration of triglyceride, cholesterol and apolipoprotein B. Methods: Physicians, about to begin a hunger strike, were divided into four groups: normolipidemic non-obese men (group 1), two moderately obese men and two men with type IV hyperlipidemia (group 2), healthy non-obese women (group 3), and healthy non-obese women on oral contraceptives (group 4). Adherence to fasting was monitored daily by detailed interviews, loss of weight, drop in plasma glucose, presence of ketonuria, progressive rise in serum creatinine and uric acid, and decrease in plasma pH. We monitored their serum glucose, electrolytes, liver function, lipids, lipoproteins and apolipoprotein B on days 0, 3, and 5. Results: Physicians who adhered to complete fasting lost more than 1.5% of their body weight after 3 days of fasting (n=12), and more than 3.2% at 5 days (n=5). All non-obese normolipidemic males and females (groups 1 and 3) showed an increase in plasma triglyceride (by 28-162%) and very low density lipoprotein cholesterol (by 22-316%) after 3 days of fasting. The obese and hyperlipidemic men (group 2) showed a decrease of 17-63% in their VLDL cholesterol, and the women on oral contraceptives (group 4) showed a 20% decrease in their plasma triglyceride on day 3. Low density lipoprotein cholesterol increased by 13% in group 2, decreased by 7.3% in group 4, and remained unchanged in group 1 and 3. Apolipoprotein B level correlated well with LDL cholesterol in all groups. High density lipoprotein cholesterol changes were inconsistent. Conclusions: These results help to explain and reconcile previous published reports. The metabolic background of the individual together with the amount of energy consumed affect the behavior of plasma lipids and lipoproteins levels during fasting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-219
Number of pages5
JournalIsrael Medical Association Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Obesity
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Plasma lipids
  • Plasma lipoproteins
  • Prolonged fasting


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