Intermittent fasting shows potential for preventing type 2 diabetes

Intermittent fasting is more than a diet trend, a number of studies have revealed. Restricting food intake during part of the day (or multiple days in a row) has been linked to a number of health benefits, the latest being a potential protective effect against the development of type 2 diabetes. The findings come from a study out of a German research institute called Deutsches Zentrum für Diabetesforschung (DZD).

Obesity is a known risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, but only some overweight individuals will develop the disease. A number of factors are believed to play a role in this development, one of which is an excess of fat in the pancreas, an organ containing beta cells that release the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin.

A study out of the German Institute of Human Nutrition found that overweight mice prone to type 2 diabetes also had higher amounts of fat accumulation in the pancreas. In contrast, mice that were genetically resistant to type 2 diabetes were found to have 'hardly any' fat build-up in the pancreas, though they did have fat in the liver.

Researchers with the institute found that when these overweight mice prone to type 2 diabetes were allowed to eat however much they wanted, fat cells began to accumulate in their pancreas. In comparison, a second group that was put on an intermittent fasting regimen had almost no fat deposits in their pancreas.

Additional work revealed that fat cells in the pancreas appear to cause beta cells to produce too much insulin, disrupting blood sugar control. This increased production may essentially burn out the cells faster over time, eventually resulting in a loss of function and, as a consequence, the development of type 2 diabetes.

This discovery makes intermittent fasting a promising approach to helping prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, though it alone may not be enough to prevent the disease. The researchers put mice on a 24-hour alternating fasting protocol, meaning the mice were allowed to eat one day, then were not allowed to eat the next day. However, the team points toward other protocols that may be beneficial, such as eating no more than 600 calories over a 48-hour period of time each week.