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How does intermittent fasting affect insulin sensitivity and diabetes, both during and outside of Ramadan?

Magdalena Marvell, our resident Nutritionist, looks at intermittent fasting, the increasingly popular way to improve your health, lose weight and reduce the risk
of chronic diseases.

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to improve overall health, lose weight, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. During Ramadan, many Muslims practice intermittent fasting, abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset for the duration of the month.

One of the key benefits of intermittent fasting is its ability to improve insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s cells become less responsive to the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. This can lead to high blood sugar levels and eventually type 2 diabetes if left unchecked.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve insulin resistance by reducing the body’s overall insulin levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. This is because during periods of fasting, the body must rely on stored energy sources, such as fat, for fuel instead of glucose from food. This leads to a decrease in blood sugar levels and insulin secretion, which can help improve insulin sensitivity over time.

In one study, participants who practiced intermittent fasting for 12 weeks showed a significant decrease in fasting insulin levels and an improvement in insulin sensitivity compared to a control group. Another study found that intermittent fasting improved insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes, potentially reducing their reliance on insulin medication.

Ramadan and Intermittent Fasting
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, typically for 29 or 30 days. This involves abstaining from food, drink, smoking, and other forms of oral intake during daylight hours. While this may seem extreme, studies have shown that Ramadan fasting can have a positive impact on health, including reducing insulin resistance and improving blood lipid levels.

In one study, participants who fasted during Ramadan showed a significant decrease in fasting glucose levels and an improvement in insulin sensitivity compared to a control group. Another study found that Ramadan fasting improved lipid levels and reduced markers of inflammation in healthy adults.

It is important to note, however, that fasting during Ramadan may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with underlying health conditions. Individuals with diabetes or other chronic conditions should consult with their medical professional before engaging in Ramadan fasting or any form of intermittent fasting.

While intermittent fasting may not be suitable for everyone, it can be a safe and effective way to improve overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting and Diabetes:
Improved insulin sensitivity: As mentioned earlier, intermittent fasting can help improve insulin sensitivity, which is a key factor in managing diabetes. By reducing insulin resistance, the body is better able to use insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, which can help lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Weight loss: Intermittent fasting has been shown to be an effective tool for weight loss, which is particularly beneficial for people with diabetes. Excess weight can make it more difficult for the body to use insulin effectively, leading to higher blood sugar levels and an increased risk of developing complications.

Reduced inflammation: Chronic inflammation is a common factor in many chronic diseases, including diabetes. Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce markers of inflammation in the body, which can help reduce the risk of developing complications associated with diabetes.

Improved blood lipid levels: Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve blood lipid levels, which is important for people with diabetes who are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting:
Hunger: Fasting can lead to feelings of hunger, which can be uncomfortable or difficult to manage for some people. This can be particularly challenging for people with diabetes who may need to eat regularly to avoid low blood sugar levels.

Headaches: Some people may experience headaches during fasting, particularly in the early stages when the body is adjusting to the new eating pattern.

Fatigue: Fasting can lead to feelings of fatigue or low energy, particularly if the body is not receiving enough nutrients or if the person is not getting enough rest.

Dehydration: Fasting can increase the risk of dehydration, particularly
during the summer months or in hot climates.

Low blood sugar: Fasting can increase the risk of low blood sugar levels, particularly in people with diabetes who are taking medication to lower blood sugar levels. It is important to monitor blood sugar levels closely and adjust medication doses as needed.

In conclusion, intermittent fasting has several potential benefits for people with diabetes, including improved insulin sensitivity, weight loss, reduced inflammation, and improved blood lipid levels. However, it is important to be aware of the potential side effects, particularly for people with diabetes who may be at increased risk of developing low blood sugar levels. It is always important to consult with a nutritionist or healthcare professional before starting any new diet or lifestyle program.

How to get started:
Remember, intermittent fasting is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important to listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional before making any major changes to your diet or lifestyle.

Here are some suggestions to help you begin your journey with intermittent fasting:

• Choose a fasting schedule that works for you. There are several different methods of intermittent fasting, including the 16/8 method, the 5:2 diet, and alternate-day fasting. The 16/8 method involves eating during an 8-hour window and fasting for the remaining 16 hours, while the 5:2 diet involves eating normally for five days a week and restricting calorie intake to 500-600 calories on the remaining two days. Alternate-day fasting involves fasting every other day.

• Plan your meals. During your eating window, it’s important to focus on nutrient-dense foods that will provide you with sustained energy throughout the day. Avoid processed foods, sugary drinks, and snacks high in refined carbohydrates.

• Stay hydrated. During your fasting period, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, herbal tea, and other non-caloric beverages. Avoid sugary drinks and alcohol, which can interfere with the fasting process.

• Start slowly. If you’re new to intermittent fasting, start with a shorter fasting period and gradually increase the length of your fasts over time. Listen to your body and adjust your fasting schedule as needed.

• Be consistent. To reap the benefits of intermittent fasting, it’s important to be consistent with your fasting schedule. Stick to a regular eating and fasting routine, and don’t skip meals during your eating window.

References:
Antoni, R., Robertson, T. M., Robertson, M. D., & Johnston, J. D. (2018). A pilot feasibility study exploring the effects of a moderate time-restricted feeding intervention on energy intake, adiposity and metabolic physiology in free-living human subjects. Journal of Nutritional Science, 7, e22.
Gabel, K., Hoddy, K. K., Haggerty, N., Song, J., Kroeger, C. M., Trepanowski, J. F., … & Varady, K. A. (2018). Effects of 8-hour time restricted feeding on body weight and metabolic disease risk factors in obese adults: A pilot study. Nutrition and Healthy Aging 4(4), 345.

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