Can Diabetics Benefit from Planned Intermittent Fasting?

With a still-strong obesity epidemic, cases of type 2 diabetes are increasingly being diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults — although the chronic disease usually takes many years to develop in adults.

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight if you’re overweight, healthy eating, and getting regular physical activity. Now new research is suggesting that carefully monitored intermittent fasting can help type 2 diabetics nearly reverse their chronic condition, which is linked to other serious illnesses and even early death if not controlled.

At the very least, such therapeutic use of intermittent fasting can help diabetics reduce or eliminate their need for insulin, researchers say.

Lifestyle changes, such as incorporating healthier eating and exercise, are key to managing the disease. But many diabetics can’t always control blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. Doctors writing in the journal BMJ Case Reports explain that three patients with diabetes in their care, who took part in intermittent fasting that was carefully planned and well-supervised were able to eliminate the need for insulin treatment altogether. If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should.

Diet plans involving some variation of intermittent fasting are still popular, but they may not be healthy. And anyone attempting such a plan should consult with their primary care physician, especially if they have diabetes or other metabolic condition that may include elevated blood sugar levels, also referred to as “prediabetes.”

Some studies have shown that intermittent fasting can have benefits. But other studies have shown that simply eating smaller meal portions more frequently throughout the day can be effective for weight control and establishing an efficient metabolism.

“Intermittent fasting needs to be very regimented,” says Natacha Borrajo, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care. “It cannot be about fasting here and there or fasting all the time to lose weight. That doesn’t work. Fasting over long periods of time can slow down your metabolism and you can’t lose weight with slow metabolism. So fasting has to be regimented.”

The new study involved three male diabetics, aged between 40 and 67, tried intermittent fasting to see if it could ease their symptoms. They were taking various drugs to control their diabetes, including daily units of insulin. In addition to type 2 diabetes, they all had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Two of the men fasted on alternate days for a full 24 hours, while the third fasted for three days a week.

During fasting days, they were allowed to drink very low calorie drinks, such as tea or coffee, water or broth, and to eat one extremely low-calorie meal in the evening. Before their fasting regime, they all took a 6-hour long nutritional training seminar and were carefully monitored during their fasting routines.

All three men were able to stop injecting themselves with insulin within a month of starting their fasting schedule. The researchers concided that their study was strictly observational and done at a very small scale — just three participants and all of them male.

“The use of a therapeutic fasting regimen for treatment of [type 2 diabetes] is virtually unheard of,” state the study’s authors. “Educating patients on the benefits of fasting in the management of type 2 diabetes may aid in the remission of the disease and curtail the use of pharmacological interventions.”

Intermittent fasting which is medically supervised has shown to help increase insulin sensitivity, which helps regulate blood sugar control — and that’s a big must for diabetics.

“If you’re a diabetic and you’re going to try intermittent fasting, you’re going to have to be checking your blood sugar regularly,” says Ms. Borrajo. “You don’t want to take on any new diet without consulting your physician and learning about any adverse effects from intermittent fasting.”

Related article:

Sweet Life Club: Teaching Patients How to Live With Diabetes (Video)

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