There are all sorts of different diets, programs, and routines out there that claim to be helpful for those with diabetes.
One diet that has become very popular in recent times is called, "intermittent fasting."
This is where eating takes place only during a certain window during the day, often within a 6 or 8 hour period.
Is this kind of diet helpful for those with type two diabetes? Lets find out!
Does Intermittent Fasting Help With Diabetes?
First let's answer an easier question - what does it mean for something to "help" with diabetes?
Diabetes is essentially just chronically high blood sugar.
If your blood sugar levels are rising week after week or month after month, your diabetes can be considered to be getting worse.
If on the other hand your blood sugar is getting lower and lower then your diabetes is getting better, and may even be going into remission.
So the question is: what are the effects of intermittent fasting on blood sugar levels?
How does fasting affect blood sugar?
The straightforward answer is this: if you don't eat, blood sugar levels will naturally fall.
When sugar enters the body one of two things happens - it either get burned as energy, or it gets stored as fat for later use.
But if the storage compartments in your body get full then sugar has nowhere to go, and ends up floating around in the blood, causing high blood sugar levels.
One of the things that fasting can do is give your body a break from incoming sugar, which allows your body to start burning through the sugar that has already been stored up.
This is good, as more sugar gets burned, blood sugar levels should steadily decline, and you may also experience weight loss as well.
Can intermittent fasting be dangerous?
There are a few things to look out for if you do decide to try intermittent fasting.
1. Overeating - if you are going to try intermittent fasting, it isn't an invitation to gorge yourself with food once you're within your permitted eating window.
If you find the hunger cravings to be too much to deal with, and end up stuffing yourself with food within your eating window, then this diet is likely going to be ineffective and may even have adverse affects.
This kind of binge-eating behavior can lead to hyperglycemia - a condition in which blood sugar levels get dangerously high, so if you find it too difficult to control hunger after a fast, this kind of diet may not be appropriate for you.
2. Hypoglycemia - this is especially important if you're taking medications to lower blood sugar such as insulin or metformin.
Because fasting means that you aren't getting any sugar during the fasting period, blood sugar levels can drop quickly, especially if you're exercising or taking meds to control sugar levels.
As with any diet program, it's best to check with your doctor before starting to make sure that medication dosages get adjusted (if necessary). You should also check with your doctor if you experience any unusual side-effects during the course of your diet such as high or low blood sugar, lightheadedness, or other symptoms that may indicate hyper- or hypoglycemia.
Can intermittent fasting be beneficial?
When done safely, intermittent fasting may indeed have some great benefits for people with type two diabetes.
One major benefit is weight loss.
Typically weight loss goes hand in hand with lowering blood sugar levels, which is why losing weight is typically encouraged for people with type two diabetes.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to be effective for people looking to lose weight but again, be cautious of over-eating caused by hunger and cravings.
Another benefit specific to patients with diabetes is that intermittent fasting may improve insulin sensitivity.
There is still a lot of research to be done around the actual mechanisms of insulin resistance and intermittent fasting, but one interpretation is that insulin resistance is an auto-immune reaction, and intermittent fasting can improve gut health, which can greatly improve auto-immune issues.
A third benefit is that intermittent fasting can actually reduce hunger cravings once you get used to the diet.
This may seem counterintuitive, but many people on intermittent fasting diets actually report feeling less hungry once their body adjusts to the new routine.
The bottom line
Intermittent fasting is a fairly new protocol and there is still a lot more research that needs to be done with regards to how it affects people with type two diabetes.
There is good evidence to suggest that intermittent fasting can improve gut health, and lead to weight loss, which are two critical components to improving your diabetes.
That being said, there are also risks such as hyper or hypoglycemia from overeating or not eating - particularly in conjunction with medications to lower blood sugar.
As with any diet program, it's best to check with your doctor before starting. Some medications may need to be adjusted prior to or during your program, depending on the results you start to see.