In a small randomized controlled trial of patients with type 2 diabetes in China, close to half of those who followed a novel intermittent fasting program for 3 months had diabetes remission (A1c less than 6.5% without taking antidiabetic drugs) that persisted for 1 year.
Importantly, “this study was performed under real-life conditions, and the intervention was delivered by trained nurses in primary care rather than by specialized staff at a research institute, making it a more practical and achievable way to manage” type 2 diabetes, the authors report.
Moreover, 65% of the patients in the intervention group who achieved diabetes remission had had diabetes for more than 6 years, which “suggests the possibility of remission for patients with longer duration” of diabetes, they note.
In addition, antidiabetic medication costs decreased by 77%, compared with baseline, in patients in the intermittent-fasting intervention group.
Although intermittent fasting has been studied for weight loss, it had not been investigated for effectiveness for diabetes remission.
These findings suggest that intermittent fasting “could be a paradigm shift in the management goals in diabetes care,” Xiao Yang and colleagues conclude in their study, published online in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
“Type 2 diabetes is not necessarily a permanent, lifelong disease,” senior author Dongbo Liu, PhD, from the Hunan Agricultural University, Changsha, China, added in a press release from The Endocrine Society.
“Diabetes remission is possible if patients lose weight by changing their diet and exercise habits,” Dr. Liu said.
Invited to comment, Amy E. Rothberg, MD, PhD, who was not involved with the research, agreed that the study indicates that intermittent fasting works for diabetes remission.
“We know that diabetes remission is possible with calorie restriction and subsequent weight loss, and intermittent fasting is just one of the many [dietary] approaches that may be suitable, appealing, and sustainable to some individuals, and usually results in calorie restriction and therefore weight loss,” she said.
The most studied types of intermittent fasting diets are alternate-day fasting, the 5:2 diet, and time-restricted consumption, Dr. Rothberg told this news organization.
This study presented a novel type of intermittent fasting, she noted. The intervention consisted of 6 cycles (3 months) of 5 fasting days followed by 10 ad libitum days, and then 3 months of follow-up (with no fasting days).
After 3 months of the intervention plus 3 months of follow-up, 47% of the 36 patients in the intervention group achieved diabetes remission (with a mean A1c of 5.66%), compared with only 2.8% of the 36 patients in the control group.
At 12 months, 44% of patients in the intervention group had sustained diabetes remission (with a mean A1c of 6.33%).
This was “an excellent outcome,” said Dr. Rothberg, professor of nutritional sciences, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a co-author of an international consensus statement that defined diabetes remission.
On average, patients in the intermittent fasting group lost 5.93 kg (13.0 lb) in 3 months, which was sustained over 12 months. “The large amount of weight reduction is key to continuing to achieve diabetes remission,” she noted.
This contrasted with an average weight loss of just 0.27 kg (0.6 lb) in the control group.
Participants who were prescribed fewer antidiabetic medications were more likely to achieve diabetes remission. The researchers acknowledge that the study was not blinded, and they did not record physical activity (although participants were encouraged to maintain their usual physical activity).
This was a small study, Dr. Rothberg acknowledged. The researchers did not specify which specific antidiabetic drugs patients were taking, and they did not determine waist or hip circumference or assess lipids.
The diet was culturally sensitive, appropriate, and feasible in this Chinese population and would not be generalizable to non-Asians.
Nevertheless, a similar approach could be used in any population if the diet is tailored to the individual, according to Dr. Rothberg. Importantly, patients would need to receive guidance from a dietician to make sure their diet comprises all the necessary micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals on fasting days, and they would need to maintain a relatively balanced diet and not gorge themselves on feast days.
“I think we should campaign widely about lifestyle approaches to achieve diabetes remission,” she urged.