Can Fasting Diet Help Regenerate A Diabetic Pancreas?


A cycled fasting mimicking diet may help in cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, new research in mice has found. In fact, the pancreas can be triggered to regenerate itself through a type of fasting diet, according to the University of Southern California-led study.

The pancreas is an organ that uses specialized cells known as beta cells to produce the hormone insulin, which the body uses to break down sugars in the blood. In type 1 diabetes the pancreas stops producing insulin. In type 2 diabetes either not enough insulin is produced or cells in the body fail to respond to insulin.

Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, said:

“Cycles of a fasting-mimicking diet and a normal diet essentially reprogrammed non-insulin-producing cells into insulin-producing cells. By activating the regeneration of pancreatic cells, we were able to rescue mice from late-stage type 1 and type 2 diabetes. We also reactivated insulin production in human pancreatic cells from type 1 diabetes patients."

Low Calorie High Fat Diet

Mice were fed for four days on a low-calorie, low-protein and low-carbohydrate but high-fat (FMD) diet, receiving half their normal daily calorie intake on day one, followed by three days of 10% of their normal calorie intake.

Researchers repeated this fast on three occasions, with 10 days of re-feeding in between. They then examined the pancreas.

They found in mice modeled to have both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, insulin production was restored, insulin resistance was reduced, and beta cells could be regenerated. Early lab study involving human cell samples showed similar potential.

These are promising results, but further studies are needed to validate these findings in humans.

If you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you shouldn’t attempt a fasting diet without first seeking medical advice. A sudden change in your calorie intake could have unpredictable effects and lead to complications.

Dr Longo, speaking to BBC News, cautioned:

“Do not try this [fasting] at home. This is so much more sophisticated than people realize”.

Reprogramming Cell Lineages

Animal studies like this one are useful early-stage research to help better our understanding of cellular mechanisms.

However, the human body has complex biology and we’re not identical to mice, so further studies would be needed to see whether the same effects are observed in humans.

Researchers also recruited healthy human adult volunteers without a history of diabetes, who underwent three cycles of a similar five-day fasting regimen. The blood samples from these people were applied to the cultured pancreatic human cells.

The results in the human cell samples suggested similar findings to those seen in mice. FMD cycles – that is, in blood samples from fasted individuals applied to human pancreatic cells in the laboratory – may be able to promote reprogramming of cell lineages and generate insulin in pancreatic islet cells.

Prior studies on the FMD diet have shown potential for alleviating symptoms of the neurodegenerative disease multiple sclerosis, increasing the efficacy of chemotherapy for cancer treatments, and decreasing visceral fat.

The researchers concluded:

“These results indicate that an FMD promotes the reprogramming of pancreatic cells to restore insulin generation in islets from T1D [type 1 diabetes] patients and reverse both T1D and T2D [type 2 diabetes] phenotypes in mouse models."

Overall, researchers found in mice models of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, insulin secretion was restored and insulin resistance and beta cells could be regenerated or have their function restored. Very early laboratory study on human cell samples suggested similar potential.

These results show promise, but further research is needed to validate these findings in humans.

Professor Anne Cooke, professor of immunology at the University of Cambridge, commented:

“This is good science and does give promise for the future treatment of diabetes, but we need further studies to see whether this works in people as well as it has in mice."

Do not suddenly try fasting, or any other radical change to your diet, without first consulting the doctor in charge of your care. Sudden changes to your diet could cause complications.

Cheng et al.
Fasting-mimicking diet promotes Ngn3-driven β-cell regeneration to reverse diabetes
Cell, Volume 168 , Issue 5 , 775 – 788.e12