Fasting reprogrammes cells in the pancreas to start producing insulin again, say researchers from the University of Southern California, led by Dr Valter Longo.
Fasting for four days—when calorie intake is kept between 750 and 1,100 calories a day—reverses symptoms of diabetes, a disease of insulin-resistance when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to break-down sugars in food.
But fasting kick-starts the cells' insulin-producing functions, the researchers found in experiments on mice and human cells. Even mice whose diabetes was at a late-stage responded to fasting and started producing insulin again.
"Cycles of fasting and a normal diet essentially reprogrammed non-insulin-producing cells into insulin-producing cells," said Longo.
The mice regained healthy insulin production, reduced insulin resistance and established more stable levels of blood glucose at every stage of diabetes. A similar effect was seen in the human cells that were tested.
Last week, the researchers released a research paper that suggested that fasting could help reduce the usual risk factors for cancer and heart disease. Earlier papers have also found that fasting could help ease symptoms of neuro-degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS).