As a general rule, nutritionists and other medical professionals will tell you that fasting—not eating for an extended number of hours—is detrimental to your health. Many people turn to fasting as a tool for weight loss, but typically what happens is the reverse—metabolism is negatively impacted resulting in fat gain.
But, a new study from the Intermountain Heart Institute in Utah indicates that fasting may be an important intervention tool for pre-diabetics, saving them from becoming diabetic. The study examined the impact of fasting on a group of pre-diabetic patients and found that there was a significant drop in cholesterol levels, particularly if they fasted for periods of 10-12 hours at a time. Dr. Benjamon Horne, one of the study’s authors and the Director of Cardiovascular and Genetic Epidemiology at the Intermountain Heart Institute said that fasting has the potential to be an important tool for diabetes intervention. During fasting, the body uses LDL cholesterol from fat cells to provide itself with energy. The LDL cholesterol is known to contribute to insulin resistance.
The study group consisted of male and female patients between the ages of 30 and 69 who were not yet considered diabetic, but who were dealing with abnormally high levels of glucose levels in their blood, meaning they were at high risk of developing the disease. They also had high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides in the blood and some were struggling with obesity. Initially, on the days that patients fasted, cholesterol levels increased, mirroring a previous study conducted in 2011. But over the full six weeks of the study, patients experienced a 12% drop in cholesterol levels. Because fasting seems to break down the unhealthy fat cells, insulin resistance may be reversed resulting in healthy blood sugar levels.
The study was presented at the 2014 American Diabetes Association Conference in San Francisco, CA this week (read more here). Dr. Horne pointed out, though, that this is not a panacea for diabetes. The results, while very encouraging, require more in-depth study.