Special diet may restore pancreatic function in people with diabetes
A special type of fasting diet may help restore function to the pancreas in people with diabetes, according to a recent study. Testing the diet in mice was shown to reverse symptoms of diabetes. Authors of the study, published in the journal Cell, say that the diet reboots the body and triggers the body’s natural repair and rejuvenation processes.
Health experts note that the findings are very exciting, as they could open up new treatment methods for diabetes. However, individuals with diabetes should not attempt this diet without medical supervision. More human trials are needed to determine if the diet — referred to as a fasting mimicking diet — is a suitable approach for treating diabetes in humans.
In the animal studies, mice were put on a species-appropriate version of the diet. A similar diet for humans consists of five days of plant-based foods that are low in calories and protein, but high in unsaturated fat. The human version of the diet consists of approximately 1100 calories the first day and 800 calories the remaining 4 days.
Research has also suggested that the diet can slow the effects of aging.
In the diabetes study, the diet was given to mice with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Both groups saw improvements in insulin secretion and blood glucose control. The diet was shown to regenerate cells in the pancreas known as beta cells, which are responsible for releasing insulin when blood sugar levels increase. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys beta cells, impairing the body’s ability to produce insulin. In type 2 diabetes, which is largely caused by lifestyle factors, the body stops responding to insulin — a condition known as insulin resistance.
Biochemist Dr. Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, helped develop the diet based on years of research on the biochemical processes involved in aging. “By pushing the mice into an extreme state and then bringing them back — by starving them and then feeding them again,” says Longo, “the cells in the pancreas are triggered to use some kind of developmental reprogramming that rebuilds the part of the organ that’s no longer functioning.”
Tests on tissue samples from humans with type 1 diabetes also showed promising results.
“Medically, these findings have the potential to be very important because we’ve shown — at least in mouse models — that you can use diet to reverse the symptoms of diabetes,” said Longo. “Scientifically, the findings are perhaps even more important because we’ve shown that you can use diet to reprogram cells without having to make any genetic alterations.”
Clinical trials in humans have demonstrated positive health effects such as improvements in blood sugar, blood glucose control, and body fat. For long-term results, the diet is intended to be used once a month, for five consecutive days. During the rest of the month, individuals can eat their regular diet.
Participants also experienced lower levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1, which is linked to some cancers.
The diet is available for individual use under the name ProLon and is distributed by L-Nutra, a company Dr. Longo founded but from which he receives no financial benefit. Individuals with diabetes or other medical conditions such as liver disease are advised to seek medical authorization before attempting the diet on their own.