Fasting reduces cholesterol levels in prediabetic people over extended period of time

June 14, 2014

For prediabetics, many interventions focus on lifestyle changes and weight loss, but new research on periodic fasting has identified a biological process in the body that converts bad cholesterol in fat cells to energy, thus combating diabetes risk factors.

Researchers at the Intermountain Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, noticed that after 10 to 12 hours of time fasting, the body starts scavenging for other sources of energy throughout the body to sustain itself. The body pulls LDL (bad) cholesterol from the and uses it as energy.

"Fasting has the potential to become an important diabetes intervention," says Benjamin Horne, PhD, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute and lead researcher on the study. "Though we've studied fasting and it's health benefits for years, we didn't know why fasting could provide the health benefits we observed related to the risk of diabetes."

Researchers will present results of the study at the 2014 American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions in San Francisco on Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Prediabetes means the amount of glucose, also called sugar, in the blood is higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes.

Prior research done by Dr. Horne and his team in 2011 focused on healthy people during one day of fasting and showed that routine, water-only fasting was associated with lower glucose levels and weight loss.

"When we studied the effects of fasting in apparently healthy people, cholesterol levels increased during the one-time 24-hour fast," said Dr. Horne. "The changes that were most interesting or unexpected were all related to metabolic health and diabetes risk. Together with our prior studies that showed decades of routine fasting was associated with a lower risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease, this led us to think that fasting is most impactful for reducing the risk of diabetes and related metabolic problems."

Due to the findings in 2011, Dr. Horne launched this new study to look at the effects of fasting in prediabetics over an extended period of time. The study participants were prediabetics, including men and women between the ages of 30 and 69 with a least three metabolic risk factors. These risk factors include:

  • A large waistline. This also is called abdominal obesity or "having an apple shape."
  • A high triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.
  • A low HDL cholesterol level, the "good" cholesterol. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.
  • High blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood.
  • High fasting blood sugar. Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

In the pool of participants qualifying for the study were people with different weights, some obese and some not. In previous fasting research performed by a few other institutions, those studies have all only examined obese participants and focused on weight loss due to fasting. Though weight loss did occur in the Intermountain Medical Center study, three pounds over six weeks, the main focus of the study was diabetes intervention.

"During actual fasting days, cholesterol went up slightly in this study, as it did in our prior study of healthy people, but we did notice that over a six-week period decreased by about 12 percent in addition to the ," said Dr. Horne. "Because we expect that the cholesterol was used for energy during the fasting episodes and likely came from fat cells, this leads us to believe fasting may be an effective diabetes intervention."

The process of extracting LDL from the fat cells for energy should help negate insulin resistance. In insulin resistance, the pancreas produces more and more insulin until it can no longer produce sufficient insulin for the body's demands, then blood sugar rises.

"The fat cells themselves are a major contributor to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes," he said. "Because fasting may help to eliminate and break down fat cells, may be frustrated by fasting."

Dr. Horne says that more in-depth study is needed, but the findings lay the groundwork for that future study.

"Although may protect against ," said Dr. Horne. "It's important to keep in mind that these results were not instantaneous in the studies that we performed. It takes time. How long and how often people should fast for health benefits are additional questions we're just beginning to examine."

Explore further: Understanding insulin resistance; Precursor to diabetes can be reversed

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Engineered hot fat implants reduce weight gain in mice

August 20, 2015

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a novel way to engineer the growth and expansion of energy-burning "good" fat, and then found that this fat helped reduce weight gain and lower blood glucose ...

Promising progress for new treatment of type 1 diabetes

July 30, 2015

New research from Uppsala University shows promising progress in the use of anti-inflammatory cytokine for treatment of type 1 diabetes. The study, published in the open access journal Scientific Reports, reveals that administration ...

Bacteria may cause type 2 diabetes

June 1, 2015

Bacteria and viruses have an obvious role in causing infectious diseases, but microbes have also been identified as the surprising cause of other illnesses, including cervical cancer (Human papilloma virus) and stomach ulcers ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.