We all fast for a period of time when we sleep. Then we break the fast by eating breakfast. Intermittent fasting is just that – a systematic way of eating that schedules longer periods of going without food before refueling again during a dedicated feeding window.
This eating method has been found effective for weight loss and obesity, but there is growing evidence to suggest intermittent fasting can be beneficial for type 2 diabetics with the potential to even reverse the chronic health condition.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic condition that results in high blood glucose levels due to two main reasons:
- Insulin resistance where the body becomes ineffective at used the insulin it produces and/or
- The body is unable to produce enough insulin to respond to the incoming glucose.
The inability to respond normally to insulin leads to an uncontrolled amount of sugar in the bloodstream.
When we consume foods containing carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cereal, dairy, fruit and starchy vegetables, our bodies digest it into single sugars known as glucose. The pancreas is stimulated to release insulin which allows glucose to enter the cells to provide the body with energy.
In type 2 diabetes, there isn’t enough functioning insulin to process single sugar molecules. This build up in the cells unable to provide energy and over time, this can lead to damage of the body’s major organs. This can result in health issues such as vision loss, kidney problems and heart disease.
Thankfully, type 2 diabetes can largely be managed through healthy eating and regular exercise. By maintaining low blood sugar levels through the avoidance of dietary sugars, most people will never require long-term medication to manage the condition.
The Effects of Fasting and Type 2 Diabetes
Calorie restriction as a result of fasting has been found to increase insulin sensitivity while causing our insulin levels to fall. The body will be forced to use stored glycogen to provide energy.
This causes our glucose levels to improve, a loss of body fat and the risk of gaining weight lessens.
Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction, in general, has also been shown to improve various inflammatory and metabolic pathways that are associated with insulin resistance.
These effects of intermittent fasting may make it an appealing approach for people who are overweight, have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetics who are not currently taking blood sugar lower medications. Although, there isn’t a large body of evidence to assess the long term safety.
The 5:2 diet is perhaps the most studied form of intermittent fasting in relation to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
A 2010 study reviewed 107 women aged between 30 and 45 years old with a BMIs ranging between 24 and 40. The participants were randomly selected to follow a diet of continuous calorie restriction of 1,500 or the 5:2 fasting plan.
At the end of the study, both groups of dieters lost a comparable amount of weight. Similar improvements were found in their triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
However, the difference was in the fasting insulin levels. The 5:2 diet proved more successful at reducing fasting insulin levels and improving insulin sensitivity then those who were on continuous energy restriction.
A study by the University of Alabama found the 16:8 intermittent fasting method resulted in dramatically lower insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity in just five weeks when compared to those who spread their eating window over 12 hours.
The 16:8 diet followers also reported a decrease in appetite and significantly lower blood pressure.
A big advantage of intermittent fasting for people living with type 2 diabetes is it can be an effective way to get their weight back to a healthy number. However, like many diets, long-term results appear to be reliant on compliance with glucose levels reverting if fasting stops.
Intermittent Fasting and Type 1 Diabetes
Intermittent fasting for the management of type 1 diabetes is much more difficult and significantly increases the individual’s risk of hypoglycemia. While the benefits of intermittent fasting may extend to type 1 diabetics, this eating method should only be done under the guidance of your health practitioner. There are also limited clinical trials on fasting diets and the effects on the health of people with type 1 diabetes to ascertain the long-term effects.
The Risks of Intermittent Fasting for Diabetics
The most common risk of intermittent fasting as a diabetic on anti-diabetic medications (specifically insulin or sulfonylureas) is the increased potential for hypoglycemia.
For this reason, it is important that diabetics consult their healthcare practitioner before starting intermittent fasting and monitor their blood sugar levels closely.
Most people report a period of adjustment in the initial weeks of fasting with headaches and light-headedness temporary side effects.
Long-term, intermittent fasters need to be sure they’re maintaining adequate protein intake during their feeding window to ensure they don’t experience protein malnutrition. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can occur depending on the number of days and duration of fasts if the individual doesn’t consume a nutrient-dense, balanced diet.
The Bottom Line
There is early evidence to suggest intermittent fasting can be an effective strategy to induce weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes.
However, diabetics have individual requirements and their personal health needs should be taken into consideration before embarking on any fasting protocol.
With the correct approach and proper monitoring of blood glucose levels and medication adjustments, intermittent fasting may be a way to manage and possibly reverse a person’s diabetes diagnosis.
Explore in more detail
- A Beginner’s Guide To Intermittent Fasting
- A Guide To The 16:8 Fast
- A Guide To The 20:4 Fast
- A Guide To The 5:2 Fast
- Intermittent Fasting And Exercise
- Intermittent Fasting And Hormone Balance
- Intermittent Fasting And Keto
- Intermittent Fasting And Type 2 Diabetes
- Intermittent Fasting And Weight Loss
- Intermittent Fasting: Tips To Starting Your First Fast
- Side Effects Of Intermittent Fasting
- Tips For Intermittent Fasting Success
- Top FAQs Of Intermittent Fasting