What’s common to type 1 and type 2 diabetes is a shortage of insulin, the hormone which directs the body to use sugar efficiently.
Without insulin, sugar derails the metabolism and causes many life-threatening conditions such as heart and liver disease, instead of being used by the body as a source of energy.
In the type 1 form, there’s virtually no insulin being produced by the diseased pancreas. In type 2, the pancreas is simply worn out by trying to lower the constantly high blood-sugar levels in obese people.
Could it be gingered up? And could the pancreas in type 2 be awakened from its sleep?
The 5:2 diet where you eat just 500 calories for 2 days a week, works by making you sensitive to the insulin you do have. So could an extension of that, a five-day diet that involves eating a fraction of your normal calories, reverse diabetes as the researchers claim?
Patients would be allowed only 700 calories a day to push the body into an extreme state, mimicking fasting. They would then return to a normal diet which forces the cells in their pancreas to reprogramme themselves and start producing insulin again.
Researchers at the University of Southern California believe that a near-fasting regime over a few months is a way to “reboot” the body. And early findings of a small experiment on 100 adults with diabetes show that doing the diet three times increases their production of insulin.
Good news for the 4.5 million Brits who have diabetes, 90% of whom are affected by type 2, which is linked to obesity.
The latest research shows the five-day diet appears to be a “rescue” remedy from type 2 and the less common type 1 diabetes.
Lead researcher Professor Valter Longo believes that by pushing the body into an extreme state and then bringing it back – by starving and then feeding it again – the cells in the pancreas are triggered to use some kind of reprogramming to rebuild the part of the organ that’s no longer functioning.
Crucially, by activating the regeneration of pancreatic cells, it’s possible to affect a rescue from late-stage type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
He notes: “We also reactivated insulin production in human pancreatic cells from type 1 diabetes patients.”
The scientists now want to test the diet on a large number of patients, but rather than being starved, they’ll be given between 700 and 1,100 calories a day.
The diet would mostly consist of soups, energy drinks and protein bars for five days before returning to their usual eating habits.