Abstaining from foods and drinks for a set period of time may be good for your health, especially if you’re at risk of diabetes, according to a recent study. German researchers looked at the metabolic benefits of intermittent fasting and found that it can prevent fat accumulation in the pancreas — an event linked not only to obesity, but also to the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
What is intermittent fasting?
The practice of fasting has religious roots and has been a part of many cultures for centuries. Today, it is commonly associated with the Jewish and Muslim traditions of Yom Kippur and Ramadan, respectively, which prohibit people from eating or drinking for a specified amount of time.
Several studies have looked into the benefits of fasting and found that it can help with metabolic disorders, such as diabetes. In particular, a type of fasting known as intermittent fasting is reported to not only promote weight loss, but also improve metabolic risk factors like high blood sugar and insulin resistance.
Unlike fasting, which can last between 24 and 72 hours and is only done on specific occasions, intermittent fasting is more of an eating pattern that’s followed with regularity. People use different methods of intermittent fasting not only to improve their health, but also to help them stay fit or lose weight.
Popular methods of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting mainly involves cycling between periods of fasting and eating. People who follow this pattern of eating can do it during the course of a whole day or twice per week, depending on the methods they choose. Here are the most popular methods of intermittent fasting:
- The 16/8 method — The simplest method of intermittent fasting, it entails skipping breakfast and eating only within a designated eight-hour period. The remaining 16 hours of the day is used for fasting.
- The eat-stop-eat method — This method involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week.
- The 5:2 diet — This diet requires people to restrict their calorie intake to no more than 600 calories on two non-consecutive days every week.
According to advocates, intermittent fasting is highly effective at reducing weight, as long as people do not overcompensate during eating periods by consuming large amounts of food. (Related: Don’t make these 7 mistakes when it comes to intermittent fasting.)
Intermittent fasting also reduces diabetes risk
Fasting intermittently has been linked to various health benefits besides weight loss. Studies suggest that it can decrease inflammation and help normalize blood sugar levels. But a study published on Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental also shows that it can help prevent diabetes.
According to German researchers, intermittent fasting can stop the accumulation of ectopic fat, especially in the pancreas. Ectopic fat is fat in the form of triglyceride droplets that are stored in other tissues besides adipose tissue. This abnormal storage of fat occurs due to obesity and is implicated in the development of Type 2 diabetes.
For their study, the researchers evaluated the effect of intermittent fasting on pancreatic fat accumulation and the function of insulin-producing beta cells. They used obese mice that were made to fast every other day and compared their fat accumulation in the liver and pancreas, glucose homeostasis, insulin sensitivity and beta cell function with those of obese mice fed a high-fat diet at their pleasure.
The researchers reported that the mice that fasted intermittently had better blood sugar levels and lower fat accumulation in the pancreas and in the liver than the mice who ate a high-fat diet. The latter not only had increased fat accumulation in both organs, they also displayed impaired beta-cell function.
Meanwhile, cell culture experiments revealed that pancreatic cells that stored ectopic fat induced a hypersecretion of insulin and released higher levels of free fatty acids than normal adipose tissue. This suggests that pancreatic fat accumulation plays a huge role in the onset of diabetes.
Based on these results, the researchers concluded that intermittent fasting reduces the risk of diabetes as it can prevent the accumulation of ectopic fat in the pancreas.