Why Fasting May Alleviate Diabetes Symptoms

Both ancient and recent anecdotes, and current research data suggest fasting offers tremendous health benefits for people with diabetes.

Fasting is voluntarily limiting our food intake for a specified time. It can give our pancreas, and other digestive organs a much needed break, and help our body restore its health.

Naturally, fasting is only useful when done wisely. People with diabetes, or any other medical condition should never fast before consulting a physician. Severely limiting caloric intake, particularly while on medications can be dangerous.

Why Fasting Helps

There was a time when people thought fasting improved health because it caused demons to leave the body. Today, we realize those demons are actually fat cells, and a variety of faulty cells the body can unload when we limit food consumption. For instance:

  • Fasting burns off dangerous fat in and around our organs. When glucose, or blood sugar is elevated our pancreas produces the hormone insulin. This signals the liver to remove sugar from our bloodstream and store it. If the liver and pancreas are marbled with fat the functioning of these organs is disrupted.
  • After about 12 hours of fasting the body uses all the liver’s stored sugar and begins burning fat deposits for energy. Once the pancreas and liver lose their coats of fat they are free to function properly, and govern our glucose effectively.
  • Fasting helps the body clean house. When living organisms don’t have food they start to consume themselves. That sounds a bit gross, but up to a point it’s beneficial because faulty cells are the first to go.
  • Defective immune cells, for instance, might be gobbled up by the body during a fast. Once eating resumes, new immune cells are then generated from the remaining healthy immune cells. In this way, fasting can upgrade and reprogram our body’s structures—maybe even the insulin producing beta cells in our pancreas.
  • Fasting can give the brain a boost. When the body breaks down fat deposits for energy during fasting, acids called ketones are produced. Ketones are a good food source for brain cells, and stimulate the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a substance that prompts the brain to make new connections.
  • Elevated ketones can help people with epilepsy control their seizures, and they may slow the onset of brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. More to the point for people with diabetes, there is evidence that fasting, and the release of ketones reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Fasting has also been shown to reduce risk factors for aging, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, even in generally healthy people whose weight loss was minimal.

Fasting As Treatment

When diabetologist Dr. Elliot Joslin wrote about fasting’s obvious benefits for type 2 diabetes in 1916, he did not have the benefit of research data to support his ideas. However, today’s understanding of why fasting works, plus an increasing number of human fasting studies, are now confirming what Dr. Joslin witnessed.

In recent Canadian research, people with type 2 diabetes engaged in personalized exercise routines, and reduced their food intake by 500 to 750 calories per day. These individuals were regularly monitored, and continued to take their diabetes medications. After four months, 40 percent of them discontinued diabetes medications because their bodies were producing sufficient insulin.

This type of research could eventually shift the treatment of diabetes away from glucose control to an approach that induces remission, followed by periodic monitoring for returning symptoms. It would surely cut back on expense, and likely reduce the incidence of diabetes complications.

Sources: MSN; The Guardian; NHS
Photo credit: NHGRI

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