Intermittent fasting could offer protection against type 2 diabetes by reducing accumulation of fat around the pancreas, German researchers have said.

Intermittent fasting comprises fasting for certain periods which can vary in length. One of the most well-known forms of structured fasting is the 5:2 diet, which involves using fasting to achieve a very low calorie intake on two days of the week. Alternative versions of fasting include limiting food intake to within an eight-hour window each day.

Fasting has previously been shown to lower HbA1c in people with type 2 diabetes, as well as enable weight loss. In this new study, overweight mice engineered to be at risk of type 2 diabetes looked at the impact that restricting meals at certain times of the day had on fat in the pancreas.

“Fat accumulations outside the fat tissue, e.g. in the liver, muscles or even bones, have a negative effect on these organs and the entire body. What impact fat cells have within the pancreas has not been clear until now,” said co-author Professor Tim J. Schulz Schürmann of the German Institute of Human Nutrition (DIfE).

One group of mice that started off with very little fat in their pancreas, but had fatty deposits in their livers, were allowed to have as much food as the wanted, whenever they wanted it. The other group were underwent an intermittent fasting regimen of eating unlimited chow one day then fasting for the next day.

After a five-week process, the researchers monitored how the animals had reacted to their regime. They found the rodents that could eat as much as they wanted had begun to accumulate fat in their pancreas, but the fasting mice showed no signs of it.

Prof Schürmann added: “Under certain genetic conditions, the accumulation of fat in the pancreas may play a decisive role in the development of type 2 diabetes.”

The study findings were published in the journal Metabolism.

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