Whether you’re fasting for religious reasons, to lose weight, or cleanse your body, research shows that there’s a risk involved if you have diabetes. Fasting while diabetic can lead to fluctuations in sugar levels and other complications like hypoglycemia.
But, the diagnosis isn’t all grim.
There’s a growing body of evidence which says that fasting has a positive impact on type 2 diabetics.
How this is possible and what risk factors you should look out for? Let’s take a look.
What is Fasting?
Fasting is the practice of abstaining from food and/or beverages for prolonged periods of time.
Some people do it for health reasons while others do it as part of a religious practice. In the Muslim faith for example, able-bodied individuals are expected to fast during the month of Ramadan. This means no food or water from dawn till dusk. Depending on where you live and the time of year, this could mean up to 18 hours of not eating!
The Different Types of Fasting
There are also different types of fasts. The following are some of the most common:
A liquid fast is when you consume liquid calories for 24 hours, a few days or even a whole week!
The whole idea behind it is to give your digestive system a break. Liquid fasting is further broken down into three categories, namely:
1) A water fast where you consume nothing but water for a prolonged period of time. Some say this helps your digestive system to rest and helps to flush out the system.
2) Green juice fasting is when you juice up celery and greens to saturate your cells with nutrients in liquid form. Your stomach doesn’t have to work as much because juices don’t require digestion.
3) Green smoothie fasting means consuming smoothies with green veggies and fiber-rich foods like apples, berries, cucumber etc. It’s like eating pre-digested food because the blender breaks down the food for you.
Dry fasting is when you abstain from food and water for up to 24 hours or more.
It’s an extreme form of fasting that pulls hydrogen from your fat stores to create what’s known as ‘molecular water’. This means your body becomes more effective at burning fat because it has to take a portion of that fat to make water.
Prolonged fasting is any kind of fast that lasts for longer than 24 hours.
Lastly, you have intermittent fasting which functions like a meal timing plan.
You go for an extended time period without eating and consolidate your calories towards the end of the day. The goal is to experience the benefits of fasting without sacrificing your daily caloric intake.
New research shows that intermittent fasting can help you lose weight, regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation and manage type 2 diabetes.
Next, we’ll explore the benefits of intermittent fasting, particularly for type 2 diabetes patients.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Some of the physical benefits of intermittent fasting include:
- Dramatic fat loss while retaining muscle
- Increased muscle tone
- Increased muscle density
- Improves vascular function
- Promotes hair and nail growth
These benefits happen due to the release of hormones known as adrenalin, epinephrine and norepinephrine. This forces your body to tap into fat stores and cut fat while preserving muscle tone.
Fasting has mental benefits too.
When you go for a long time without eating, your brain goes into survival mode. It gets hyper focused in order to preserve energy and focus on the task at hand.
Fasting also promotes the production of ketone bodies which are a tremendous brain fuel.
Then you have cellular rejuvenation. When you fast, your body goes through a process known as autophagy where old cells get eaten up by newer cells. This consolidates the cells into more powerful, healthier cells. It’s what causes glowing skin and improved organ function.
Fasting for Type 2 Diabetics
Type 2 diabetes requires careful and ongoing treatment through a clean diet, insulin management and (at first) medication.
According to an October 2018 study published in the BMJ Case Reports journal, patients should add intermittent fasting to this protocol.
The study featured three type 2 diabetes patients between the ages of 40 and 60. The patients also struggled with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and were on oral medication and insulin.
Prior to the fast, the patients went through six hours of training on intermittent fasting and diabetes. Afterwards, each patient was placed under a different protocol. The first patient fasted for 24 hours, three days a week. The other two would fast on alternate days during the week.
While fasting, the patients would stick to low calorie beverages and consume only one low-carb meal per day. The researchers monitored the patients throughout, adjusting their medication dosages to avoid hypoglycemia (high blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (low blood sugar).
Within 18 days, all three patients lost up to 18% of their total body weight, reduced oral medication and ended the need for insulin.
Weight Loss Benefits of Fasting
According to the Obesity Society, 90% of type 2 diabetes patients are either overweight or obese.
That’s why weight loss is a vital component of diabetes treatment. It promotes efficient blood glucose absorption and helps with insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is one of many type 2 diabetes precursors, and its characterized by an inability to absorb glucose through the cells, liver and muscles. This leads to high blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia.
Intermittent fasting makes it easier to manage this and many other common type 2 diabetes risks.
Despite the positive results shown in this study, many physicians are wary to recommend fasting as a diabetes treatment.
Are There Any Risks to Fasting?
Many diabetic patients have a compromised immune system and fasting could lead into other problems.
That’s why it’s important to get a medical assessment and the go-ahead from your physician before you start fasting.
One of the highest risk factors for diabetes patients when fasting is low blood sugar and it usually manifests in the following symptoms:
- Back pain
- Bodily cramps
- Dark urine
If you experience any of these symptoms while fasting, stop immediately and consult with your doctor.
What about Thyroid Health?
Thyroid function is a common concern for diabetes patients.
According to the European Journal of Endocrinology, thyroid function stays the same while you’re fasting, whereas thyroid hormone production slows down.
The good news is your thyroid will bounce back to its normal function once you start eating again.
How to Start a Fast
What you eat leading into a fast can make a huge difference.
If you eat high-fiber foods you’re more likely to feel full for longer. This means you’ll get all the metabolic benefits of fasting without the hunger pangs.
Good quality fats are also recommended because of their ability to leak free fatty acids into the blood stream, allowing you to produce ketone bodies.
How long should you fast?
The longer you fast, the more you tap into the cellular rejuvenation benefits.
Most experts recommend starting out with a 14 to 16 hour fasting window and an 8 to 10-hour eating window.
That’s because 16 hours is where the benefits of fasting really start to kick in. But, even if you fast for 12 or 14 hours a day you’ll get a lot of the base level benefits, like weight loss and mental focus.
What to consume during and after a fast
Sugar is the first thing your body will crave when you break a fast.
But, we urge you to resist the cravings and opt for good fats, soups, fruits and vegetables instead. Pay attention to the quality of the nutrients you take in and void empty calories, high sugar, highly processed and fried foods etc.
Since healthy beverages are allowed during a fast, we recommend sticking to herbal teas and water.
Avoid creamer and sweeteners because sugar can trigger an insulin response.
Fasting is relatively common nowadays and people do it for health and religious reasons alike. Diabetes patients can benefit from fasting because it promotes weight loss and less insulin production.
With that said, there are certain risks and side effects to fasting without proper supervision.
For best results, we recommend you pay attention to the quality of what you eat and consume nutrients instead of calories. This means getting the proper amount of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
The point is to take in quality health ingredients that’ll benefit your body while you’re fasting.
Don’t forget to consult with your doctor before you undertake a fast to make sure that you do it right.
Every ‘body’ is different.