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Could fasting become a new intervention for pre-diabetes?

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Fasting may protect against diabetes

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Research shows that modest weight loss and regular physical activity can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes by up to 58% in people with prediabetes, according to the CDC. However, researchers from Intermountain Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, turned their attention to periodic fasting a biological process in the body that converts bad cholesterol in fat cells to energy, thus combating diabetes risk factors.

Dr. Benjamin Horne, PhD, MPH, FAHA, FACC, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, led this new research. In 2011, Dr. Horne and his team had looked at healthy participants during one day of fasting. Their results revealed that water only fasting was linked to lower glucose levels and weight loss.

Dr. Horne said of the 2011 findings, “When we studied the effects of fasting in apparently healthy people, cholesterol levels increased during the one-time 24-hour fast.” “The changes that were most interesting or unexpected were all related to metabolic health and diabetes risk. Together with our prior studies that showed decades of routine fasting were associated with a lower risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease, this led us to think that fasting is most impactful for reducing the risk of diabetes and related metabolic problems.”

As a result of these findings Dr. Horne initiated this new study in which the team investigated the effects of fasting in prediabetics over an extended period of time. The studying include participants who ere prediabetic, men and women between the ages of 30 and 69 years and had at least three metabolic risk factors. These risk factors included;

Abdominal obesity; having an apple shape rather than a pear shape.

A high triglyceride level (or you're on medicine to treat high triglycerides; triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.

A low HDL cholesterol level; a low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease,

High blood pressure; the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.

High Fasting Blood Sugar; mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

Participants in this study had different weights with some being obese.

Past research from other studies had only looked at obese participants and focused on weight loss due to fasting. Weight loss did occur in this study which was three pounds over a six week period but the main purpose of this study was diabetes intervention.

According to Dr. Horne in regards to this new study “During actual fasting days, cholesterol went up slightly in this study, as it did in our prior study of healthy people, but we did notice that over a six-week period cholesterol levels decreased by about 12 percent in addition to the weight loss.” “Because we expect that the cholesterol was used for energy during the fasting episodes and likely came from fat cells, this leads us to believe fasting may be an effective diabetes intervention.”

The method of removing LDL cholesterol from the fat cells for energy should help negate insulin resistance. In insulin resistance the body produces insulin but does not use it effectively. When people have insulin resistance, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being absorbed by the cells, leading to type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

“The fat cells themselves are a major contributor to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes,” said Dr. Horne. “Because fasting may help to eliminate and break down fat cells, insulin resistance may be frustrated by fasting.”

In closing Dr. Horne remarks “Although fasting may protect against diabetes.” “It’s important to keep in mind that these results were not instantaneous in the studies that we performed. It takes time. How long and how often people should fast for health benefits are additional questions we’re just beginning to examine.”

Dr. Horne notes that more in-depth study is needed however, these finding lay the ground work for that future study.

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