Intermittent fasting is older than civilization. Our paleolithic ancestors certainly practised it in times of scarcity whether they wanted to or not. And for centuries many people have fasted for cosmetic or religious reasons. But only now is intermittent fasting getting the respect that its health benefits for people with diabetes warrant.
Case in point: The current issue of The British Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease, a bimonthly peer reviewed journal read by scientists, diabetologists, endocrinologists, cardiologists, and vascular surgeons (and a few writers like me) includes a positive review of "Intermittent fasting: a dietary intervention for prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular disease?"
Publishers sometimes make the full-text of their most important articles free online. In this case the publisher announced that it would be "available to access for free for a limited period," and as I write it is still free. In fact, it is currently this journal's "most read" article.
The benefits of intermittent fasting for weight loss are established, according to the three authors of the new review. They are researchers at two universities in Birmingham, England. Intermittent fasting also helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Beyond these benefits, the researchers studied intermittent fasting to see how well it works to treat obesity and type 2 diabetes.
They concluded that intermittent fasting does help to reverse obesity. "Despite the seemingly strict nature of the fasting days," they write in their review, "intermittent fasting has a generally good adherence record and can cause significant reductions in body weight in individuals with obesity, suggesting that this is a clinically relevant therapeutic approach."
Intermittent fasting "can reduce the incidence of diabetes in experimental animals," the authors conclude. They also find evidence that it may also slow the progression of type 2 diabetes in obese individuals. Further, they point out several recent studies that show intermittent fasting improves blood sugar and insulin levels and insulin sensitivity and also prevents the development of some diabetic complications.
Perhaps equally important to those of us with diabetes is that intermittent fasting can limit inflammation and improve our blood pressure as well as our lipid levels. All of this, unlike just about any medication, "is cost-effective and associated with a low risk of adverse events."
Seeing at least a part of the medical establishment accept the value of intermittent fasting is personally gratifying to me. I have advocated it in at least three of my earlier articles here. I often practice a short form of intermittent fasting myself, particularly by skipping dinner on any day that my weight is up beyond my target. I find that practice to be infallible, as I wrote in "A New Way for People with Diabetes to Lose Weight."
Perhaps skipping one meal isn't really intermittent fasting. The authors of the new review of intermittent fasting say that in its basic form we alternate days regular eating with days when we severely restrict how much we eat. Actually, I think that intermittent fasting can take many forms, and skipping dinner once in a while is a great way to start.