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Fasting Diet for People With Diabetes Could Regenerate the Pancreas

New research shows that a diet which mimics fasting might be able to push beta cells in the pancreas to repair themselves and start making insulin again.

Elizabeth Rowley, A Sweet Life, Feb 25, 2017

BBC news reported that for the research study, mice in the lab were put on a modified form of the "fasting-mimicking diet". The diet is similar to the human practice of spending five days on a low-calorie, low-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. "It resembles a vegan diet with nuts and soups, but with around 800 to 1,100 calories a day. Then they have 25 days eating what they want - so overall it mimics periods of feast and famine," says BBC news.

A press release on Eureka Alert explained that the researchers used two different mouse models of two types of diabetes to study how the diet affected the mice. One group had a gene mutation that causes insulin resistance and loss of insulin secretion, which mimicked type 2 diabetes. The other group was treated with a chemical to destroy the mice's beta cells, which was the model for type 1 diabetes. Both groups were put on the diet for three cycles.

Excitingly, this diet showed the possibility of regeneration of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas which had stopped or slowed production of insulin in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, respectively.

Diet regenerates beta cells

Senior author of the study, Dr. Valter Longo of the University of Southern California School of Gerontology and Director of the USC Longevity Institute, told Eureka Alert, "Our conclusion is that by pushing the mice into an extreme state and then bringing them back - by starving them and then feeding them again - the cells in the pancreas are triggered to use some kind of developmental reprogramming that rebuilds the part of the organ that's no longer functioning".

Studies suggest the diet could be a way to "reboot the body by inducing it to slow down aging and regenerating new cells," reports Eureka Alert.

Dr. Longo told BBC: "Medically, these findings have the potential to be very important because we've shown - at least in mouse models - that you can use diet to reverse the symptoms of diabetes. Scientifically, the findings are perhaps even more important because we've shown that you can use diet to reprogramme cells without having to make any genetic alterations."

Will it work on humans?

The intermittent fasting diet has been trialed on humans for various purposes, and it has shown improved blood sugar levels. However, people are advised not to try this diet on their own because it could have a detrimental impact on their health if not done with proper medical guidance.

A BBC reporter, Peter Bowes, took part in a separate trial with Dr. Valter Longo several years ago .

Bowes told BBC: "During each five-day fasting cycle, when I ate about a quarter of the average person's diet, I lost between 2kg and 4kg (4.4-8.8lbs).

"But before the next cycle came round, 25 days of eating normally had returned me almost to my original weight. But not all consequences of the diet faded so quickly."

According to the BBC, his blood pressure was lower as was a hormone called IGF-1, which is linked to some cancers.

On February 15, Longo's team published a Phase II study that was carried out in 100 humans who were exposed to three rounds of the same diet. According to Eureka Alert, "their IGF1 levels decreased and their fasting glucose levels improved, among other findings."

However, the team says more research is needed before the findings can be validated for application in humans. Longo told Eureka Alert that future clinical trials are already being planned.

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