Could fasting help to combat diabetes? The pancreas – which helps control blood sugar levels – can be triggered to regenerate itself through a type of fasting diet, according to research by the University of Southern California.

For millions of years animals, including humans, have lived through periods of feast and famine and our bodies have evolved to adapt to these circumstances. During periods of food deprivation, our basic survival instinct triggers our body’s to have a gradual decline in effectiveness of many tissues and organs in order to minimise energy expenditure. This atrophy (or wastage) and its reversal following the return to a normal diet involves stem-cell-based regeneration in the body.

Now a study, published in the journal Cell, suggests that a fasting diet may reboot the body.

Experts say the findings are “potentially very exciting” as they could become a new treatment for diabetes.

The research was undertaken with mice. Separate trials using a fasting diet in people have also been shown to improve blood sugar levels.

How about juice ‘fasting’ (a period on juice only)? My experience here is purely anecdotal and I’m not saying it will work for everyone, but I’ve seen many examples of people (such as Joe Arnold and Phil McFarlane) who have REVERSED their type 2 diabetes through lifestyle change and who credit juicing as a key component.

Scientific conclusion

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.”

There were benefits in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the mouse experiments.

Type 1 is caused by the immune system destroying beta cells and type 2 is largely caused by lifestyle and the body no longer responding to insulin.

Further tests on tissue samples from people with type 1 diabetes produced similar effects.

In a report by the BBC, Dr Longo said: “Medically, these findings have the potential to be very important because we’ve shown – at least in mouse models – that you can use diet to reverse the symptoms of diabetes. Scientifically, the findings are perhaps even more important because we’ve shown that you can use diet to reprogramme cells without having to make any genetic alterations.”

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.”

Professor Anne Cooke, professor of immunology at the University of Cambridge, commented: “This is good science and does give promise for the future treatment of diabetes, but we need further studies to see whether this works in people as well as it has in mice.”

Medical supervision

If you are thinking about fasting or making any other changes to your lifestyle make sure you speak to your doctor first.

Dr Longo said people should NOT rush off and crash diet. He told the BBC: “It boils down to do not try this at home, this is so much more sophisticated than people realise.”

Advice from the NHS is: “Don’t suddenly try fasting, or any other radical change to your diet, without first consulting the doctor in charge of your care. Sudden changes to your diet could cause complications.”


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