Intermittent Fasting for Diabetes: The Good, The Bad, The Unknown

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Intermittent fasting, or IF, is not a diet but a lifestyle. When you practice it, you alternate periods of eating normally with periods of voluntary fasting. IF is a simple way to eliminate excess calories and lose weight.  

Beyond weight loss, IF leads to belly fat reduction, increased insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, all of which will benefit you if you have diabetes. Is it possible that intermittent fasting is the diabetes cure? Some signs point to yes, while others say not so fast.  

Can Diabetes Be Cured By Drugs?

Over 30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and another 84 million are pre-diabetic.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when blood sugar is elevated too high for too long. Your pancreas becomes fatigued and your body can no longer produce enough insulin to remove sugar from your blood. Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes the use of drugs that slow digestion, lower your blood sugar, increase insulin production, or directly deliver insulin to your bloodstream.

Drugs may improve your body’s ability to manage blood sugar, but they target the symptoms and not the cause. Making changes to your lifestyle by eating better and exercising is highly recommended to stop diabetes from advancing.

Doctors caution that since diabetes is a progressive disease, it cannot be ‘cured.’ It can, however, go into remission. There’s no time limit on remission as long as you continue to adhere to your new, healthy lifestyle and follow your doctor’s advice. 

Can IF Help With Diabetes?

There’s still research to be done, but it appears the benefits of intermittent fasting may disrupt the progression of diabetes. Losing weight, reducing blood sugar, and increasing insulin sensitivity all help ameliorate diabetes, and all are spurred by IF. 

Weight loss increases insulin sensitivity by decreasing visceral fat. Losing weight also improves insulin production by specifically decreasing fat in the liver and the pancreas. Remarkably, IF targets both visceral fat and pancreatic fat, thereby improving insulin availability. 

Intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity even in those who experience no weight loss. While promising, more research needs to be done to confirm these results across a broad population. 

Lower blood sugar is especially important if you have diabetes, and intermittent fasting can help here too. A study in JAMA finds intermittent fasting effective in reducing A1C numbers. A1C is a measure of the amount of sugar in your bloodstream over the past three months, and a common method of diagnosing diabetes.   

The Risks of IF for Diabetics 

While the findings above are exciting, doctors warn to approach intermittent fasting with caution if you have diabetes, especially if you’re on medications. Consult with your healthcare provider, track your blood sugar, and be very attentive to how you feel. 

If you have diabetes, you’re prone to hypoglycemia, a condition of too-low blood sugar. Skipping meals or going without food for longer periods of time can be risky. You should consult your doctor about the best fasting plan for you, and how to adjust your medications.  

You should also be careful with IF if you have an eating disorder or past experience with disordered eating. Disordered eating is common in those with type 2 diabetes, so it’s something to watch out for. If limiting time of your food intake triggers you to binge-eat afterwards, you may need to choose a less aggressive fasting plan, or even drop IF altogether.  

Intermittent fasting looks hopeful, however, more randomized, controlled studies need to be done before IF is established as a well-known diabetes remedy. Until then, if you think fasting might be the magic pill for you, work in close partnership with your doctor, stay aware, and be willing to break your fast when needed. 

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