Intermittent fasting potential preventative approach for diabetes

Mice on an intermittent fasting regimen exhibited lower pancreatic fat, revealing a mechanism by which pancreatic fat could contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published in the journal Metabolism.

Intermittent fasting is known to improve sensitivity to the blood glucose-lowering hormone insulin and to protect against fatty liver. Fatty liver has been thoroughly investigated as a known and frequently occurring disease. However, little is known about excess weight-induced fat accumulation in the pancreas and its effects on the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) in Oberschleissheim, Germany, led by Annette Schürmann, PhD, and Tim Schulz, PhD, found that overweight mice prone to diabetes have a high accumulation of fat cells in the pancreas. Mice resistant to diabetes due to their genetic make-up despite excess weight had hardly any fat in the pancreas, but instead had fat deposits in the liver. 

The research team divided the overweight animals, which were prone to diabetes, into two groups. The first group could eat as much as they wanted whenever they wanted. The second group underwent an intermittent fasting regimen: one day the rodents received unlimited chow and the next day they were not fed at all.

After five weeks, the researchers observed differences in the pancreas of the mice. Fat cells accumulated in group one, whereas the animals in group two had hardly any fat deposits in the pancreas.

To find out how fat cells might impair the function of the pancreas, researchers isolated adipocyte precursor cells from the pancreas of mice and allowed them to differentiate into mature fat cells. If the mature fat cells were subsequently cultivated together with the Langerhans islets of the pancreas, the beta cells of the "islets" increasingly secreted insulin, according to the study abstract.

Intermittent fasting means not eating during certain time slots. However, water, unsweetened tea, and black coffee are allowed around the clock. Depending on the method, the fasting lasts between 16 and 24 hours or, alternatively, a maximum of 500 to 600 calories are consumed on two days within a week. One of the most common forms of intermittent fasting is the 16:8 method, which involves eating only during an eight-hour window during the day and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. One meal, usually breakfast, is omitted.

Current data suggest that not only liver fat should be reduced to prevent type 2 diabetes. Intermittent fasting could be a promising therapeutic approach in the future, and it is non-invasive, easy to integrate into everyday life, and does not require pharmaceuticals, Schulz said.

“Under certain genetic conditions,” he said, “the accumulation of fat in the pancreas may play a decisive role in the development of type 2 diabetes.”