Fasting Diet for Diabetes 'Could Repair Pancreas'

Peter Russell

February 27, 2017

A form of fasting diet for people with diabetes could help repair cells in the pancreas, new research suggests.

'Rebooting' the organ in this way could help insulin-producing cells repair themselves and start producing the hormone.

Insulin is needed to help keep blood sugar levels from getting too high or too low.

Type 1 and 2 Diabetes

Experts say the findings could one day have implications for people with type 2 diabetes and potentially for type 1 diabetes as well.

The study examined whether a diet alternating between fasting and normal food intake in mice could improve the function of the insulin producing pancreatic beta cells and help regenerate destroyed cells.

It involves eating a very limited number of high-fat calories for 5 days and then returning to a normal diet. Measurement of 4 biomarkers associated with a water-only diet suggest that the diet has the same physiological effects on the body as more extreme fasting. For this reason, the diet is called a 'fasting-mimicking' diet.

Studies have suggested that this kind of diet can persuade the body to slow down the ageing process and regenerate new cells. They attribute this to a fall in 3 types of genes associated with stress and ageing.

Mouse Studies

The study, published in the journal Cell, says that these experiments in mice show that during periods of fasting, the cells go into 'standby' mode. Then, when feeding begins again, new cells are produced that have the potential to become insulin-producing.

The research team, led by the University of Southern California, say that laboratory tests on tissue samples from people with type 1 diabetes produced similar effects.

Much more research will be needed before these experiments can be shown to work in people. However, the researchers say they have found a potential way that – at least in mouse models – diet can be used to reverse diabetes symptoms.


Commenting in an emailed statement, Dr Emily Burns, research communications manager at Diabetes UK, says: "This is potentially very exciting news, but we need to see if the results hold true in humans before we’ll know more about what it means for people with diabetes.

"People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes would benefit immensely from treatments that can repair or regenerate insulin-producing cells in the pancreas."

In a statement, Anne Cooke, professor of immunobiology at the University of Cambridge, describes the study as "good science" but agrees "we need further studies to see whether this works in people as well as it has in mice".


Fasting-Mimicking Diet Promotes Ngn3-Driven b-Cell RegeneratiAon to Reverse Diabetes, Cheng et al, Cell

Press release, Cell Press

Diabetes UK

Science Media Centre