A new Canadian study, which suggests that occasional fasting may help control type 2 diabetes, could serve as a simple yet effective tool for the millions affected by the condition across the world. The findings were published on October 9 in the journal BMJ Case Reports. This small trial showed that 24-hour fasting regimens can significantly reverse or eliminate the need for diabetic medication, the study authors said. Doctors at Scarborough Hospital, Ontario, put three male patients, aged between 40 and 67, on the diet. Prior to starting intermittent fasting, the patients were injecting at least 70 units of insulin daily, and all had high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
The participants also attended a six-hour nutritional training programme before starting the diet, where they were informed on how to manage their chronic condition through diet and a healthy lifestyle. Subsequently, two of the men fasted on alternate days for a full 24 hours, while the third fasted three days a week. On fast days, they were allowed to drink very low calorie drinks (tea/coffee, water or broth) and to eat one very low calorie meal in the evening. All three were able to stop their insulin injections within a month of starting their fasting schedule. For one man, this took only five days. Two were able to stop taking all their other diabetes drugs, while the third stopped three of four diabetes drugs, the study authors reported.
The trio lost between 10% and 18% of their body weight and reduced their blood sugar levels, which may help lower the risk of future diabetes complications, according to the study. “The use of a therapeutic fasting regimen for treatment of [type 2 diabetes] is virtually unheard of,” said Dr Jason Fung and colleagues, who conducted the trial. Because this was an observational study that included just three patients, it’s impossible to draw firm conclusions about the use of fasting to treat type 2 diabetes, the researchers noted.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes and over time leads to serious damage to many of the body’s systems, especially the nerves and blood vessels. According to the World Health Organisation statistics, in 2014, 8.5% of adults aged 18 years and older had diabetes. In 2015, diabetes was the direct cause of 1.6mn deaths and in 2012 high blood glucose was the cause of another 2.2mn deaths. The number of people with diabetes has risen from 108mn in 1980 to 422mn in 2014. The global prevalence of diabetes among adults over 18 years of age has risen from 4.7% in 1980 to 8.5% in 2014.
The researchers explain that while bariatric surgery (a gastric band) is effective, it comes with risks, and although drugs can help manage symptoms, they’re unable to stop the disease in its tracks. While the study provides hope for those with the chronic condition, the researchers stress the fact that the study only included three men, and therefore further research needs to be conducted to determine whether all-day fasting can treat type 2 diabetes.
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