At the 2014 American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, CA, researchers present new findings on how diabetes risk in prediabetics may be combated by periodic fasting.
In people who have prediabetes, the amount of glucose in the blood is higher than normal but is not high enough to be classed as diabetes.
In 2011, researchers at the Intermountain Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, UT, investigated how glucose levels and weight were effected by 1 day of water-only fasting in healthy people.
"When we studied the effects of fasting in apparently healthy people, cholesterol levels increased during the one-time 24-hour fast," says Benjamin Horne, PhD, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute and lead researcher on the new study.
"The changes that were most interesting or unexpected were all related to metabolic health and diabetes risk," he adds.
"Together with our prior studies that showed decades of routine fasting was associated with a lower risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease, this led us to think that fasting is most impactful for reducing the risk of diabetes and related metabolic problems."
Consequently, Dr. Horne and team began investigating the effects of fasting in prediabetics. Although Medical News Today does not have details on the number of participants included in the new study, the team has revealed that participants were between the ages of 30 and 69, and each subject also had at least three metabolic risk factors, such as:
- A large waistline
- A high triglyceride level
- A low HDL cholesterol level
- High blood pressure
- High fasting blood sugar.
Body 'feasts' on bad cholesterol in fat cells, negating insulin resistance effects
The researchers found that during fasting days, the participants' cholesterol went up slightly, as it had done in the previous study of healthy people. However, over a 6-week period, the cholesterol levels of the prediabetic participants actually decreased by about 12%.
"Because we expect that the cholesterol was used for energy during the fasting episodes and likely came from fat cells," says Dr. Horne, "this leads us to believe fasting may be an effective diabetes intervention."
After 10-12 hours of fasting, the body begins to scavenge other sources of energy throughout the body in order to sustain itself. The benefit to prediabetics, Dr. Horne's team believes, is that because the body feasts on the LDL (or "bad") cholesterol in fat cells it negates the effect of insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is when insulin production becomes so high that the pancreas can no longer produce the body's required levels of insulin, which causes blood sugar to rise. The researchers believe fasting may prevent this.
"The fat cells themselves are a major contributor to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes," Dr. Horne explains. "Because fasting may help to eliminate and break down fat cells, insulin resistance may be frustrated by fasting."
Although fasting may protect against diabetes, Dr. Horne reminds that it is important to keep in mind that fasting did not achieve overnight results. He adds that more in-depth study is needed to define what the optimum length and frequency of fasting should be in prediabetics.
"Fasting has the potential to become an important diabetes intervention," he says. "Though we've studied fasting and its health benefits for years, we didn't know why fasting could provide the health benefits we observed related to the risk of diabetes."
Recently, Medical News Today reported on a study conducted by the University of Southern California in Los Angeles that suggested prolonged fasting may "reboot" the immune system - protecting against the toxic effects of chemotherapy and triggering stem cell regeneration of new immune cells, as well as clearing out old and damaged cells.