Diabetes has become the third most life-threatening disease after cardiovascular disease and malignant tumors. According to the International Diabetes Federation, about 500 million people worldwide have diabetes mellitus and the number is increasing by 25,000 yearly, and those affected are found to be younger. A recent study shows that intermittent fasting can alleviate type 2 diabetes (also called adult-onset diabetes) .
Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetic abnormalities in insulin secretion, while type 2 diabetes is usually caused by the body’s cells failing to use insulin effectively, resulting in an imbalance in blood glucose levels. In addition, type 2 diabetes is also more common, and if not treated properly can lead to a variety of complications and death.
A research team led by Dongbo Liu, a professor at Hunan Agricultural University in China, published a paper titled “Effect of an Intermittent Calorie-restricted Diet on Type 2 Diabetes Remission: A Randomized Controlled Trial” in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism on Dec. 14. The study found that three months of intermittent fasting led to remission in some patients with type 2 diabetes.
Intermittent fasting is regarded as a safer and easier-to-implement weight loss method. The method aims at eating only within a limited period of time, including time-restricted eating, alternate-day fasting, all-day fasting, religious fasting, and others. In recent years, the most popular fasting method restricts eating to only 8 hours a day.
Liu’s team said that although some studies have investigated the health benefits of intermittent fasting in humans, the efficacy in the context of diabetes remission remains to be elucidated. The study found that three months of intermittent fasting can make type 2 diabetes patients go into remission and maintain it for at least a year without medication.
The team presented a randomized controlled clinical study to investigate the efficacy of Chinese Medical Nutrition Therapy (CMNT) in inducing diabetes remission. Diabetes remission, assessed as the primary outcome, was defined as a stable glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) level below 6.5 percent (48 mmol/mol) at least three months after discontinuation of the antidiabetic drugs. In addition, a further 12-month follow-up was conducted to confirm the patient’s stability status. The study reported that the CMNT regimen is a newly proposed intermittent fasting method that consists of a 5-day fast followed by a 10-day reintroduction of daily foods, including wheat, barley, rice, rye, and oats, and is characterized by a reduction in glycemic load, calories and carbohydrates, and an increase in unsaturated fatty acids.
The team screened 72 participants who had been living with type 2 diabetes for 1 to 11 years, who were aged between 38 and 72, and had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 19 to 30.4. The experiment was randomly divided into an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group received the CMNT therapy, while the control group was allowed to eat as they wished. The experimental group underwent 3 months of intermittent fasting intervention, with 15 days as a cycle and a total of 6 cycles. For each cycle, subjects were asked to restrict their diet for 5 days.
At the beginning of the study, all patients continued to take their usual antidiabetic medication. After 3 months of intervention, 18 out of 36 (50 percent) participants in the experimental group and 1 out of 36 (2.8 percent) participants in the control group discontinued their antidiabetic medications under the doctor’s observation. In addition, 13 out of 19 (68.4 percent) participants in the experimental group and 1 out of 35 (2.8 percent) participants in the control group reduced their diabetes medication intake. The average dose of medication was significantly lower in the intervention group than in the control group.
After completing the 3-month intervention and 3-month follow-up, 17 out of 36 (47.2 percent) participants in the experimental group achieved remission of diabetes, with a mean fasting glucose of 6.3, a mean weight loss of 5.93 kg, and a mean BMI reduction of 2.41, compared with only 1 out of 36 (2.8 percent) participants in the control group who went into remission. On the other hand, the average fasting glucose in the control group was 7.66, the average weight loss was 0.27 kg, and the BMI was reduced by 0.18.
After 12 months of follow-up, 16 out of 36 (44.4 percent) subjects in the experimental group achieved remission of diabetes with a glycosylated hemoglobin level of 6.33 percent. With a 77.22 percent reduction in medical costs in the experimental group, compared to the control group, the results of the study showed that almost half of the participants with diabetes were in remission with the CMNT regimen.
The team said that follow-up observations are being conducted for five years or longer to explore the stability and effectiveness of the CMNT regimen and whether there are any complications. The study was conducted by nurses under real-life conditions, rather than by the research team itself. The regimen makes fasting more feasible in diabetes treatment and is expected to lead to new breakthroughs in diabetes treatment in the future.