Intermittent fasting has gained much recognition in recent times, due to good marketing, celebrity endorsements, and some health benefits. Often associated with weight loss, the importance of intermittent fasting for diabetes is somehow overlooked.
There are proven health benefits to intermittent fasting for diabetes. It can help in losing weight, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce inflammation. While there is robust evidence supporting the effectiveness of fasting in controlling type 2 diabetes, not much scientific proof is available to say the same about type 1 diabetes.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting, abbreviated as IF, is an eating pattern with regular eating and fasting windows. Unlike many other diets that focus on what you eat and what not to eat, IF focuses on when to eat and when not to eat. IF claims to control and even reverse many chronic issues like obesity and diabetes, helping you lessen the symptoms or even manage them without medication.
Intermittent Fasting For Type 2 Diabetes
The effectiveness of IF in treating obesity has been proven by abundant literature, but its effectiveness in treating type 2 diabetes is yet to be proven. Theoretically, intermittent fasting should benefit type 2 diabetics the most. But practically that might not be the case.
Intermittent fasting in conjunction with diabetes medication may pose serious health risks, if not done properly. Usually, the main concern for diabetics following intermittent fasting is hypoglycemia, as one takes sugar-lowering medication and stays hungry for a long time. The best way to go is to consult a specialist. That way, they may set your medication and diet to complement each other.
Pros Of Intermittent Fasting For Type 2 Diabetes
Fasting can benefit people with type 2 diabetes not just by lowering their blood sugar but in many complementary ways also. To understand the impact of fasting on type 2 diabetes, it is better to understand what happens in type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is marked by chronically high levels of blood sugar due to the insensitivity of body cells to insulin. Insulin is the hormone that lowers blood sugar by utilizing carbohydrates as fuel.
Now, let’s have a look at the ways diabetes can benefit patients with type 2 diabetes.
A study conducted in 2021 proved that intermittent fasting works more effectively for type 2 diabetics to lose weight than standard diets. According to Diabetes.org, losing even 5% of your body weight can have benefits for your overall health. Losing a large amount of weight can put your diabetes and blood sugar surges into remission. This can even get you off of your diabetes medicine (although, as with anything in this article, it is recommended you consult with your healthcare provider so they can help you with this decision).
Increased Insulin Sensitivity
Intermittent fasting has been proven to increase overall metabolic health and improve hormonal health, which reduces insulin insensitivity. As insulin is responsible for fat storage, if you are eating throughout the day, your body produces insulin all day.
Too much insulin in the blood can cause the body’s cells to start to resist its effect. This resistance by the cells causes the pancreas to release even more insulin. So, to combat insulin resistance, you need to control its production, which is possible through intermittent fasting.
Insulin insensitivity also decreases due to weight loss. A study published in the diabetic medicine journal proves that reduction in weight through any procedure markedly increases insulin sensitivity and Beta-cell function.
Improved Cholesterol And Cardiometabolic Health
Intermittent fasting protects cardiovascular health and improves the overall lipid profile. It raises the suboptimal high-density lipoprotein.
A study that aimed to evaluate the effect of intermittent fasting on overall cardiovascular health shows that fasting helped people lose weight, lower low-density lipoprotein, and raise high-density lipoprotein, all of which are markers of improved cardiovascular health.
Why is it important for type 2 diabetics to control their cholesterol? Because constantly high levels of blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and nerves that control your heart function, putting diabetics at a higher risk of heart disease.
Chronic inflammation is a common cause of many diseases including diabetes. Recent research suggests intermittent fasting can lessen inflammation in the body cells. The results of the study show that subjects on a fasting protocol had a lower amount of proinflammatory monocytes. Fasting for more than 24 hours reduces oxidative stress on the cells, lowering inflammation.
Cons Of Intermittent Fasting For Type 2 Diabetes
The biggest risk of intermittent fasting for type 2 diabetics is fluctuations in blood sugar levels. If not done well, your blood sugar can go very low. If you take diabetes medications, you need to get your doctor to adjust them according to your new fasting routine. Taking drugs like metformin during your fasting windows can drastically drop your blood sugar level (hypoglycemia).
Moreover, if you break your fast with a high-carbohydrate and high-calorie meal, your blood glucose level is likely to surge, which is called hyperglycemia. This only happens if fasting triggers your cravings and prompts you to overeat. Both of these risks exist only if your fasting protocol is not designed by a professional, so it is always wise to seek medical help before changing your routine.
Moreover, long-hour fasting should be avoided by pregnant women, children, and people with other chronic diseases.
Intermittent Fasting For Type 1 Diabetes
Intermittent fasting is more tricky for people with type 1 diabetes. The health benefits of intermittent fasting for type 1 diabetes have not been well established. The main reason is that type 1 diabetics are usually on insulin, as the pancreas can’t create it on its own. Taking insulin in conjunction with fasting poses a high risk of severe hypoglycemia.
It is important for people with type 1 diabetes to consult with their healthcare professionals and get their insulin intake adjusted according to their new diet routine.
Choosing The Right Fasting Protocol
Intermittent fasting can be done in various ways. The right protocol for you depends upon your dietary requirements, the intensity of your diabetes, and other diseases if any. You can opt for periodic fasting protocols, fast-mimicking diets, and time-restricted feeding.
Periodic fasting for more than 24 hours is most likely to cause cell repair, but this protocol can be hard to follow for many. Fasting for such an extended period can interfere with your digestion and interfere with hormonal functioning. It is best to go for the 5:2 protocol, which allows you to eat normally for 5 days of the week and suggests calorie restriction for 2 days.
Time Restricted Eating
Time-restricted eating is another option for people with diabetes. It allows you to eat for certain hours in a day and fast for the rest of the day. Time-restricted eating can increase your insulin sensitivity, help you lose weight, and reduce inflammation. As the fasting windows are not as long as periodic feeding protocols, it has a lower risk of side effects. You can choose between 16:8 and 14:10 protocols, marked by a 16 and 14-hour fast each day.
Fast-mimicking diets can offer similar benefits to intermittent fasting but with relatively lower risks. Such diets promise improved metabolic profiles and some research also suggests that they can reverse insulin insensitivity.
The drawback of such diets is that they are not often available to the public and are carried out under strict supervision.
Yes, intermittent fasting is mostly safe for type 2 diabetics. If you choose the right fasting protocol and adjust your medication accordingly with the help of your healthcare provider, you can reap all the benefits of intermittent fasting. Unfortunately, people with type 1 diabetes can not make this decision on their own. They will have to consult their endocrinologist or nutritionist to help them start their protocol.
So, what do you think about intermittent fasting for diabetes? Which type of intermittent fasting is most interesting to you? Let us know in the comments below!