Could a Scientifically Designed Fasting Diet Cure Diabetes?

On February 15, researchers from the University of Southern California published the results from a randomized clinical trial with regard to diet. The researchers discovered that periodic, five-day fasting diet of their design safely reduced the risk factors for major health issues people face such as: heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other age-related diseases.

The research conducted placed 71 adults on three cycles of a low-calorie, "fasting-mimicking" diet. The phase II trial, conducted by researchers at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, demonstrated a host of benefits from the regimen. 

The diet reduced cardiovascular risk factors including blood pressure, signs of inflammation (measured by C-reactive protein levels), as well as fasting glucose and reduced levels of IGF-1, a hormone that affects metabolism. It also shrank waistlines and resulted in weight loss, both in total body fat and trunk fat, but not in muscle mass.

In effect, the diet reduced the study participants' risks for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other age-related diseases, according to the findings published Feb. 15 in Science Translational Medicine.

In a separate study, published on February 23 in the journal Cell, states that the diet reboots the body, which could lead to some potentially very exciting new treatments for diabetes. Scientists caution people to not suddenly go on their own fasting diets, as the diet used in the experiment is specifically and scientifically designed. 

The fasting diet used in the experiment is similar to a diet where people spend five days on a low calorie, low protein, low carbohydrate but high unsaturated-fat diet. It resembles a vegan diet with nuts and soups, but with around 800 to 1,100 calories a day. The diet mimics periods of feast and famine, where there are 25 days of eating normally and 5 days of a fasting or fasting-mimicking diet. 

In previous experiments, it has been shown that such a diet can also slow down the aging process. 

So far with regard to how a fasting diet could help cure diabetes - the research has only been carried out on animals. That said, in the experiments, the mice on the fasting diet regenerated a special type of cell in the pancreas called a beta cell, which are the cells that detect sugar in the blood and release the hormone insulin if it gets too high.

When speaking about the results of the experiment, Dr Valter Longo, from the University of Southern California, said: "Our conclusion is that by pushing the mice into an extreme state and then bringing them back - by starving them and then feeding them again - the cells in the pancreas are triggered to use some kind of developmental reprogramming that rebuilds the part of the organ that's no longer functioning."

Furthermore, what's promising about this experiment is that the fasting diet shows promising results for both Type I and Type II diabetes.  Dr. Longo further commented that the findings are so significant because they show that diet can be used to reverse the effects of diabetes, and that it can be used to re-program cells without the need of any genetic modifications.

Dr Emily Burns, research communications manager at Diabetes UK, said: "This is potentially very exciting news, but we need to see if the results hold true in humans before we'll know more about what it means for people with diabetes. People with type-1 and type-2 diabetes would benefit immensely from treatments that can repair or regenerate insulin-producing cells in the pancreas."

 Thus, while this is very exciting and promising news, a lot more work still needs to be done in this area.