Is fasting the way to reverse diabetes?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Could fasting reverse diabetes and regrow new cells in the pancreas?

Mouse studies suggest there could be hope for reversing diabetes through a type of diet that mimics fasting. Could intermittent fasting then eating what you want reverse diabetes in humans?


Researchers found mice with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes regenerated insulin producing beta cells after being placed on a fasting type, very low calorie diet of about 800 tol 1000 calories a day.

What happened

According to the research, published in the journal Cell, fasting four days a week stabilized blood sugar by reprogramming genes.

There has been much research about epigenetics - changing our genes for better health - making the finding exciting for health outcomes for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Past studies have shown people with type 1 diabetes tproduce insulin even 40 years after developing the disease.

Valter Longo a USC researcher discussed the finding in a podcast.

The published finding follows work in hemateopoetic stem cell research showing cycles of fasting can reset the immune system, Long explained.

Past studies have shown 2 to 3 days of cyclic fasting can promote stem cell regeneration and protect mice from the toxic effects of chemotherapy.

Though stem cells have proved promising as a means of reversing disease, there are many challenges.

The researchers decided to see if a low calorie, fasting type diet might do the same for the pancreas.


The diet, Long said isn't strictly fasting, but it is low in calorie.

Witholding calories "temporarily" produced reprogramming of the beta cells much like what happens during fetal development, in turn leading to development of new cells in the mice.

Restoring beta cells to normal was accomplished with six to eight cycles of fasting and then refeeding, resulting in reprogramming of a number of genes associated with adult onset diabetes.

The study authors write: The research "...provides an example of a potent and coordinated dietary regulation of cell-fate determination with the potential to serve as a therapeutic intervention to treat diabetes and other degenerative diseases.

The finding is especially interesting because pancreatic cells regenerate slowly and rarely. Also of interest, mice given the fasting metabolic diet (FMD) maintained weight throughout the experiment; compared to their healthy littermates.

The researchers also tested human tissue and discovered the same results.

The diet is approximately 50 percent calorie restricted Longo said; low inprotein and low in sugar, which seems to regulate a key pathway for cell regeneration.

The researchers note a state of starvation can reduce the size of organs and in animals it is a response to conserve energy.

The next step is clinical trials to see if intermittent fasting could treat insulin resistance and reverse type 1 and type 2 diabetes in humans.


"Fasting-Mimicking Diet Promotes Ngn3-Driven β-Cell Regeneration to Reverse Diabetes
Chia-Wei Cheng, et al.


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