Managing diabetes is a tough job that may have you looking for unorthodox solutions to keep life under control. Recently, there's been a rise in the popularity of intermittent fasting as a solution for everything, from weight loss to heart disease. So, is intermittent fasting good for people with diabetes — or is it just another trend to steer clear of?
What is intermittent fasting?
Like other forms of fasting, intermittent fasting works by restricting food. However, it is unique because intermittent fasting utilizes fasting and eating windows to produce results. There's no one set cycle of fasting and eating; however, most intermittent fasters use the 16:8 rule, which allows for an 8-hour eating window followed by 16 hours of fasting.
In other words, intermittent fasting isn't so much a diet as it is a way of eating. So, will it help prevent or manage diabetes? Let's take a look.
How intermittent fasting can help diabetes: the benefits
One of the biggest reasons people turn to intermittent fasting is to aid in weight loss. And because obesity is commonly linked to diabetes, intermittent fasting for diabetes may be helpful — but only if you do it right. Here are some of the benefits associated with this fasting method:
- Weight loss — During long periods of fasting, our bodies stop using glucose for energy and instead utilize stored fat to fuel our cells, which may aid in weight loss. Weight loss and management are essential components of managing diabetes; even losing a small amount of weight can help reduce the risk of problems such as diabetic neuropathy or heart disease.
- Reduced insulin resistance — Some studies have shown that intermittent fasting may positively affect insulin sensitivity. In addition, for people living with type 2 or prediabetes, this can make blood sugar levels easier to manage.
- Lower levels of bad cholesterol — Is fasting good for people with diabetes? Well, it may help with heart health. Fasting may help lower levels of bad cholesterol and blood pressure. This is great news for people with diabetes, as those with high cholesterol or blood pressure are much more likely to develop cardiovascular problems.
- Lower Blood Sugar Levels: Some studies have shown intermittent fasting can reduce blood sugar levels. This is particularly important for people with diabetes, as high blood sugar levels, if left unchecked, can lead to various complications.
- Reduction in Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is often associated with Type 2 diabetes. Intermittent fasting may reduce the levels of inflammatory markers in the blood, which can be beneficial in managing the condition.
- Heart Health: People with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease. Intermittent fasting can improve various risk factors for heart disease, such as reducing bad cholesterol levels, thus contributing to better heart health.
- Cell Repair and Longevity: During fasting periods, cells initiate a waste removal process called autophagy. This involves the cells breaking down and metabolizing broken and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells over time. Enhanced autophagy may protect against several diseases, including diabetes and its complications.
- Mental Clarity and Reduced Stress: Some people find intermittent fasting improves mental clarity and concentration. Managing diabetes can be stressful, and anything that contributes to mental well-being can be considered positive.
Why intermittent fasting for diabetes may not work: the drawbacks
Will fasting help diabetes? Can it help people with diabetes gain better control over their blood sugar levels? Unfortunately, not necessarily — and it may have other drawbacks as well.
- Hunger — One of the main drawbacks of any fasting is feelings of hunger. This can be uncomfortable and may negatively impact your mood.
- Increased cravings — Feeling hungry may make it more challenging to make healthy food choices.
- Overeating/binge eating — Intermittent fasting only works if you make healthy choices during your eating window, including healthy portions. Unfortunately, fasting may increase the likelihood of overeating to compensate for missing calories or meals.
- Other negative side effects — Intermittent fasting may have other adverse side effects, including weakness, dizziness, irritability, inability to concentrate, and preoccupation with food or other eating-related thoughts.
Safety concerns: Is intermittent fasting safe for people with diabetes?
For most people, intermittent fasting is a lifestyle choice and shouldn't cause problems. But what about those with diabetes? Is intermittent fasting healthy for people with diabetes?
For some people with diabetes, intermittent fasting may not be harmful or helpful. However, that isn't the case for every person with diabetes. Fasting with diabetes can be dangerous and increase the risks of:
Hypoglycemia refers to an abnormally low level of blood sugar. For individuals with diabetes, especially those on medications that increase insulin levels, intermittent fasting may sometimes result in extended periods without food, which can cause blood sugar levels to drop dangerously low. This can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, and in severe cases, loss of consciousness or seizures.
- Diabetic Ketoacidosis
Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious condition where the body starts breaking down fat too quickly, causing the blood to become acidic. This might happen if the body doesn't have enough insulin to use glucose for energy and starts using fat instead. For individuals with Type 1 diabetes, intermittent fasting could potentially trigger this condition, making it essential to approach fasting cautiously.
There might be inadequate fluid intake during fasting, especially for prolonged periods. For people with diabetes, who are already at risk of dehydration due to high blood sugar levels, fasting can exacerbate this. Dehydration can be harmful and lead to various health issues, including kidney problems.
- Taking in Too Much or Too Little Insulin
Intermittent fasting can disrupt the regular eating schedule, and for those on insulin, this can make it challenging to time and regulate insulin doses effectively. Taking too much or too little insulin relative to food intake and physical activity can cause blood sugar levels to become too high or too low, which can be dangerous for individuals with diabetes.
Because every person and situation is different, it's imperative to talk with your doctor before starting any diet or fasting plan.
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