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Intermittent fasting can help in remission of Type 2 diabetes: Study

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A small study from China found that people with diabetes could attain remission following an intermittent calorie-restrictive diet after three months.

Most notable was that the participants continued to be in remission at the one-year mark. “Although intermittent fasting diets (IF) are becoming very popular, no studies have investigated their benefit in diabetes remission,” researchers wrote in their paper published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Co-author Dongbo Liu, PhD, a researcher at Hunan Agricultural University in Changsha, China, said that the experiment shows that type 2 diabetes is not necessarily a permanent, lifelong disease. “Diabetes remission is possible if patients lose weight by changing their diet and exercise habits,” he said. “Our research shows an intermittent fasting, Chinese Medical Nutrition Therapy (CMNT), can lead to diabetes remission in people with type 2 diabetes, and these findings could have a major impact on the over 537 million adults worldwide who suffer from the disease.”

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is when you have long periods of fasting between meals. There are many different types of plans, including those that restrict calories for only certain hours of each day or certain days of the week. This diet has become popular nowadays and is known to help people reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes.

For this study, participants in the intervention group didn’t completely fast or even restrict the time of day they ate their meals. Instead, they intermittently restricted calories and followed a specific diet.

Researchers recruited 72 participants between 38 and 72 years who had been living with type 2 diabetes for anywhere from 1 to 11 years and used anti-diabetic drugs or insulin injections to manage the condition. Two-thirds were men, and the body mass index (BMI) ranged from 19.1 to 30.4.

A healthy BMI is between 18 and 24.9, overweight is between 25 and 29.9, and 30 and over is considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Researchers randomly placed participants into one of two groups. One group ate a modified intermittent fasting diet called the Chinese Medical Nutrition Therapy (CMNT) diet; the other group had no restrictions on what they ate.

Participants followed the 15-day cycle of the CMNT diet — five modified fasting days followed by 10 days of eating normally — for a total of six times during the three-month trial. 

On the modified fasting days, subjects ate foods prepared by the scientists and included ingredients such as wheat, barley, rice, rye, and oat. The macronutrient breakdown of the CMNT diet was 46 percent carbs, 46 percent fat, and 8 percent protein, which added up to 840 calories — about one-third of the daily recommended calories for the average U.S. male. 

Unlike some IF diets, participants were able to eat the prescribed foods at regular intervals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

After three months, about 86 percent of the participants (31 out of 36) in the intervention group reduced the amount of diabetes medications they were taking, according to researchers.

Out of that group, about 55 percent of participants, or 17 people, went into remission (with A1C levels of less than 6.5) and discontinued their anti-diabetic drugs. They then maintained those levels for at least one year, says Dr. Liu.

Remission isn’t a cure — it just means diabetes is temporarily in a holding pattern, and in theory, it could come back, doctors say.

This study disproved the conventional view that only people who’ve lived with diabetes for less than six years can achieve remission. “Sixty-five percent of the participants achieving diabetes remission in this study had a diabetes duration between 6 and 11 years,” says Liu.

Study Limitations

For starters, the study was small. Plus, the people though all diabetic, might not represent the overall type 2 diabetes population. “Most people in the study had mild or moderate diabetes at the start of the trial. On average, their A1C was already pretty close to goal (with their medications). So their diabetes was pretty well controlled, and only about 17 to 20 percent were on insulin. Also, the weight range of the participants was lower than what is typically seen in people with T2D,” said a doctor not a part of the research.

Additionally, the study group, on average, lost 10 percent of their body weight and seemed to have maintained it for an year. This seems to be highly successful as in the real world, people who are successful in shedding weight through intermittent fasting do not see this level of weight loss and this fast.

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