How To Safely Do Intermittent Fasting If You Have Diabetes


How can you manage your weight when you’re at home all day, powerless against the magnetic force of your pantry, which is loaded with yummy snacks? No wonder so many people have gained “The Quarantine 15.”

Well, for starters, you can stop buying snacks and foods that quickly convert into sugar. That means no crackers, chips, pretzels, popcorn, bagel bites and the like. These foods  cause blood sugar spikes and subsequent blood sugar dips. They also place a continuous strain on your pancreas to produce insulin. And if you inject insulin, eating these foods will do nothing to help you manage diabetes, which, if you have the condition, places you at greater risk for contracting coronavirus

A healthier alternative to frequent eating throughout the day is eating three larger balanced meals and avoiding snacking altogether. Another approach to managing diabetes and getting rid of the excess weight caused by Covid-19 stress is through intermittent fasting. 

Intermittent fasting is an effective weight-loss and blood-sugar control strategy. However, you need to make sure you’re doing it safely. 

Reasons to Try Intermittent Fasting

Because of coronavirus stress, many people eat from early morning until late at night. This causes considerable stress on the pancreas and digestive system. When you eat frequently throughout the day, not only do your blood sugar levels stay elevated, creating increased insulin resistance and inadequate insulin secretion, you develop a backlog of bacteria in your small intestine. 

Gut bacteria should reside in your colon (large intestine), not your small intestine. Frequent snacking keeps the bacteria in the small intestine, which can cause bloating and a condition called SIBO. SIBO stands for small intestine bacterial overgrowth. A study of 175 patients with diabetes revealed that nearly 15% of the group had SIBO, compared to less than 3% in the control group. 

SIBO’s main characteristic is malabsorption of nutrients due to bacterial overgrowth. This is what causes bloating, constipation or loose stools, to name just a couple of symptoms. 

Many people with diabetes realize the importance of eliminating added sugars and starchy carbohydrates in the diet. But relatively fewer people are aware of SIBO. 

How Intermittent Fasting Can Help Manage SIBO and Increase Insulin Sensitivity

Intermittent fasting, which involves abstaining from calories for at least 12 hours a day, can help reduce the amount of bacteria in the small intestine, thereby improving SIBO symptoms. And by not eating throughout the day, your body won’t be as resistant to insulin; your pancreas won’t be required to produce as much of it to drive sugar into the cells. 

You can keep insulin levels low through a combination of intermittent fasting and switching to a low (or lower) carbohydrate diet. (Out of the three macronutrients, carbs, proteins and fats, it’s carbs that produce the greatest insulin spike; protein is second.)

How to Safely Fast If You Have Diabetes

People with managed type 2 diabetes can safely do intermittent fasting. However, for people with type 1 diabetes and advanced type 2 diabetes, intermittent fasting may be riskier, potentially causing hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia as well as diabetic ketoacidosis and dehydration. 

Unfortunately, there are no guidelines when it comes to intermittent fasting and diabetes. The top results for intermittent fasting searches on the American Diabetes Association (ADA) website are a study about insulin sensitivity done on 8 people without diabetes and links to the ADA community forum, which debate the merits of intermittent fasting. 

One post suggests that if you take an insulin-secreting medication or if you inject insulin, you should be careful with intermittent fasting. The same posts says that  combining a carb-free diet and intermittent fasting can cause blood sugar levels to precipitously drop. Furthermore, you also need to be careful with intermittent fasting if you take an SLG-1 inhibitor medication (which helps the kidneys regulate blood glucose).

If you do decide to try intermittent fasting, first consult with your physician. You should also monitor your blood sugar levels either with a continuous glucose monitor or a finger stick every few hours. 

Perhaps the best advice when it comes to diabetes and intermittent fasting is from an ADA community member, Karen Rachel, who posted: 

“The solution, of course, is not to snack. Hide the stuff. Put a sign on the refrigerator door. Don’t take it to work. Or just don’t buy the stuff in the first place. And realize that ‘healthy’ snacks are still snacks. If there are carbs in it, your pancreas and liver will still have to work.”

Rachel continues: “What worries me is that people will take up fasting without clearing it with their doctors, especially if they’re taking medication. There is no cure or quick-fix for diabetes. I wish there were. The only way to manage it involves work – diet and exercise and education and – where necessary – medication. It’s a pain in the neck, but it beats strokes and blindness and amputations and dialysis.”

What Does Research Say About Diabetes And Intermittent Fasting?

The findings pretty much echo Rachel’s advice above. A study in the journal Nutrients, concludes: “When done under the supervision of the patient’s healthcare provider, and with appropriate personal glucose monitoring, intermittent fasting can be safely undertaken in patients with diabetes.”

Fasting for 12 hours or longer can help deplete your liver’s stored glycogen (blood sugar that’s not used up by the cells or muscles). This in turn, will make you less resistant to insulin and more sensitive to it. Increasing insulin sensitivity is the often underlooked diabetes-management-strategy, taking a backseat to blood glucose monitoring. 

Just make sure you speak to your doctor before starting intermittent fasting. 

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