Periodic fasting may be an intervention for the development of diabetes, according to a new study from the Intermountain Heart Institute in Utah. The Mormon religious culture in Utah practices this regularly, and that state has the second-lowest diabetes rate in the U.S. Researchers decided to look at whether there was a connection between the two.
The new research findings, presented last Saturday in San Francisco at the 2014 American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions, show that fasting can reduce cholesterol levels in prediabetic people. They noticed that after not eating for 10-12 hours the body started looking for other sources of energy to sustain itself, and found cholesterol. The body started to pull LDL (bad) cholesterol from fat cells and use it as energy.
A 2011 study from the same team found that routine periods of not eating were associated with weight loss and lower glucose levels. Based on this information the new study set out to look at what the effects of periodic fasting might be specifically in prediabetics, and whether it might be a form of intervention for developing full-blown diabetes. Participants included prediabetic men and women, aged 30-69, with at least three metabolic risk factors. These risk factors included high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, high fasting blood sugar and a large waistline.
People with diabetes tend to have higher bad cholesterol levels and triglycerides. The disease has the effect of lowering good cholesterol levels, also increasing the risk for stroke and heart disease. The condition is known as diabetic dyslipidemia, and studies have shown a connection between it and insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
As in the 2011 study, the cholesterol levels of participants actually went up slightly during the fasting days, but over a six-week period these levels decreased by about 12 percent, in addition to the participants experiencing weight loss. Study lead researcher Benjamin Horne theorizes that cholesterol lowered because it was pulled from fat cells and used for energy. He said that the most recent findings, combined with their prior studies, indicate that decades of routine fasting are indeed associated with a lower risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, and that it is “most impactful” for reducing diabetes risk, as well as the risk of other metabolic problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers diabetes to be a major health threat in America. The number of people in the country diagnosed with diabetes in 2012 was 29 million, up from 26 million in 2010. Another one-third of the population, 86 million adults, have blood sugar levels that are high enough to consider them pre-diabetic, although many are unaware of this.
Horne said that although many books recommend that people fast for two or three days a week, there are risks with the practice and little evidence that it is safe. He says, however, that fasting could potentially become an important intervention in the development of diabetes. Horne said that more study is needed, but the current research provides the necessary research foundation.
By Beth A. Balen