The Grapevine

Fighting Diabetes By Fasting? Small Study Shows Promise, But Experts Advise Caution

In a small study, Canadian researchers found three middle-aged patients were successfully able to discontinue insulin injections after taking up intermittent fasting under medical supervision.

The report titled "Therapeutic use of intermittent fasting for people with type 2 diabetes as an alternative to insulin" was published in the journal BMJ Case Reports on Oct. 9.

The research team did note how the use of a therapeutic fasting regimen for treating type 2 diabetes is "virtually unheard of," writing in the paper. "This present case series showed that 24-hour fasting regimens can significantly reverse or eliminate the need for diabetic medication."

The researchers recruited three men with diabetes who were aged 40, 52 and 67. Before the start of the study, they were injecting at least 70 units of insulin every day and also had high cholesterol and blood pressure.

The men underwent 24-hour fasts several times a week for a period of 10 months. Only dinner was consumed on the fasting days but the patients were allowed to have low-calorie drinks like water, coffee, and broth through the day.

Within a month, all three men were able to discontinue injecting themselves with insulin. Furthermore, two were able to stop taking all their diabetes medications while the third could stop taking three out of four diabetes drugs. By the end of the study period, they also saw reductions in their weight and waist circumference.

While the results were noteworthy, it was important to remember the study was very small and an observational one. There was also no control group to compare the to and the long-term effects of the diet on the patients were still not known. Many experts also advise caution, since the idea of "curing" such conditions is a controversial one.

"In general, the concept of reversing or curing diabetes... is not well-accepted in the medical field," said Dr. Abhinav Diwan of the Washington University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. "It is not even a therapeutic goal when people start to treat diabetics."

Conclusions cannot be drawn from the new study yet as the researchers are still in the early stages of understanding the association between diabetes and the fasting technique. More research will be needed to ensure safety since previous studies have noted harmful reactions, particularly with blood sugar dropping to dangerously low levels.

"Clearly, there is need for caution, because diabetic people are prone to hypoglycemic episodes, and hypoglycemia can be fatal," Diwan said. "People do not want to put them themselves at risk by fasting without consulting a doctor."