Does Intermittent Fasting Help People With Diabetes?

Updated on January 12, 2022

By Brett Goerl. Our study examines recent studies to compare and contrast intermittent fasting and restricted feeds to diabetes. Having diabetes can be challenging when it comes to maintaining good health and insulin levels.

However, recent trends within diabetes are focused on when and not when eating. You’ll likely hear doctors, relatives, primary care physicians, and other medical professionals describe the practice as intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding.

It’s time to go back to basics to make sure that we are all on the same page when it comes to known exactly what intermittent fasting is, exactly what diabetes is, and exactly how both of these things can affect the body and whether they should be considered as partners in being able to bring forth better and improved health.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how a person’s body is able to turn food into energy. Chronic refers to the fact that it is a long-lasting condition that is not cured easily by over-the-counter medications, antibiotics, or any kind of surgery.

The body breaks down food into various substances and for diabetes, the most important one is glucose, which is basically sugar. This is then released into the bloodstream. This causes a spike in your blood sugar, which prompts the sending of a signal to your pancreas that it needs to release an amount of insulin to help deal with the rise in blood sugar. In unaffected bodies, this chain of commands leads to insulin letting the blood sugar into your body’s cells, using it as energy.

However, if you have diabetes, it means that your body either does not make enough insulin to do the job properly or it cannot find a way to use insulin in the ways that it should. When your body doesn’t have enough insulin or your cells stop responding to the insulin that is already there, it results in too much blood sugar staying within your bloodstream. If this persists, then it can lead to serious health issues including heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss.

While there isn’t currently a cure for diabetes, decades worth of research and study have revealed a set of pointers that are identified as being able to help manage the symptoms and effects of the condition. These include things like keeping a healthy diet, losing weight, and staying physically active – essentially, the bedrock of good health.

There are self-management medicines such as insulin injections that have a massive effect, and combined with the various health measures and efforts already mentioned, people with diabetes can live a ‘normal’ and relatively healthy life despite their metabolic issues.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

A prevalent topic in the world of dieting and weight loss in the last few years is the process known as intermittent fasting. You may have come across the term, but how much do you know about what intermittent fasting actually involves?

In its simplest form, intermittent fasting is a method of diet control that promotes a specific eating pattern that cycles between dedicated periods of fasting and eating. The method recommends that out of the 24 hours of the day, you select a small and specific window in which to do your eating.

Most commonly, intermittent fasting practitioners select the 16/8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours of the day and having an 8-hour window in which to eat. Crucially, this is a technique that does not dictate what you eat, but rather when you should be eating it. For example, if the 8-hour eating window your select is 12 pm to 8 pm, you should not eat during the period before noon or after 8 pm.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting?

It is believed the core health benefits of intermittent fasting come in the ways that the nature of the extended food restriction causes changes to your body on a molecular and cellular level. For example, intermittent fasting adjusts the hormone levels in the body to make the storage of body fat more accessible. It also can have a very important impact on how successful your metabolism is.

It is easy to understand, then, exactly why a lot of people around the world promote intermittent fasting as a helpful factor in changing their body weight and general weight loss, but what does this mean or imply for people with diabetes?

Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between intermittent fasting and diabetes, and whether or not the method is a good idea for someone with issues ranging from blood pressure to insulin resistance to low blood sugar to insulin sensitivity and beyond.

Are Intermittent Fasting And Diabetes A Recommended Match?

Intermittent fasting has been shown to help with weight loss.  As already discussed, there is a definite link between obesity and the severity and onset of Type 2 diabetes, so if intermittent fasting can help with weight loss, then in that sense it can help with improving metabolic risk factors and also reduce the risk of diabetes.

However, there are definitely some big considerations when thinking about intermittent fasting by people with diabetes versus those without diabetes.

People who suffer from diabetes find themselves at a much higher risk of hypoglycemia (lower blood sugar levels) and hyperglycemia (higher blood sugar levels), and this is due to fluctuations that occur in blood sugar levels after extended periods of not eating.

Obviously, the nature of intermittent fasting means that you are going on average 16 hours per day without eating anything at all, and for some people with diabetes, this can start to cause problems with things like blood glucose levels and insulin levels.

The general consensus is that a great degree more research is needed in order to be able to determine if there are any true long-term risks of intermittent fasting for people who have diabetes. The cons are clear, but so are the pros, and something like randomized clinical trials are needed to establish if intermittent fasting can actually help diabetics in ways further than the typical metabolic health, daily calorie restriction, blood sugar management, and overall caloric intake.

Conclusion On Intermittent Fasting – Thoughts On Everything From Blood Sugar To Blood Pressure To Insulin Resistance

What is very clear is that while intermittent fasting can be a great method of weight loss for those who don’t suffer from things like insulin sensitivity, blood pressure issues, and blood sugar issues, people with diabetes might not want to consider it as their primary method of losing weight for the long term.

An intermittent fasting diet might be a good idea if your blood sugar is under control, you want lower blood pressure, and you don’t think that your body will suffer under the restrictions of therapeutic intermittent fasting protocols. If, however, restricting calories is going to be in direct opposition to your diabetes care, then perhaps an alternate day fasting regimen isn’t the best thing for you.

People with diabetes lose weight in a variety of different ways, ways that don’t have to have such a potentially drastic impact on things like blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, blood glucose levels, and general insulin sensitivity.

Periodic fasting can be a good way to boost something like glucose metabolism, but it must always be in accordance with other factors like your medication doses, metabolic risk factors, general food intake, existing insulin levels and blood sugar levels, and everything else that could impact your diabetic health.

Weight loss is something that can prevent a person from becoming at risk of developing diabetes, so as a preventative measure, an intermittent fasting regimen can be of great use. However, if you have reached a point in your life when high blood sugar and metabolic disease risk markers are already a reality, then perhaps a healthy diet that doesn’t necessarily involve an intermittent fasting eating pattern would be more appropriate.

There are many different ways to manage diabetes when you are trying to lose weight, but your body weight should never come before your overall diabetes management in the form of things like insulin therapy, bloody sugar control, blood sugar medication, glycemic control, and focus on healthy fats etc.

Should Someone With Diabetes Try Intermittent Fasting Diets?

If your heart is set on trying to severely restrict calories in the form of an intermittent fasting plan, then there is nothing to say that you should absolutely not do it, especially if you are among the group of metabolically healthy obese adults who are simply looking into forms of weight loss.

However, if diabetes is a reality of your life and you have to contend with low blood sugar, insulin resistance, checking insulin levels, blood glucose, and overall blood sugar control, then perhaps time-restricted feeding is not right for you.

Take a note of your body mass index, educate yourself on eating disorders, and try to find a path to a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t necessarily involve a fasting period that could lead to dramatically lower insulin levels and blood sugars.

People with diabetes should always consult primary care physicians when making any change in dietary regimen. For example, carbohydrate restriction may cause continuous energy restriction which may then interfere with patients medication regimen and therefore negatively affect diabetes care plans. 

The road to weight loss is different for all of us, and people with diabetes can still burn fat and promote weight loss in their lives without having to risk further health problems due to early time-restricted feeding routines.

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