Monthly Archives: June 2014

Periodic fasting ‘may protect against diabetes in at-risk groups’

At the 2014 American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, CA, researchers present new findings on how diabetes risk in prediabetics may be combated by periodic fasting.

LipidologyIn people who have prediabetes, the amount of glucose in the blood is higher than normal but is not high enough to be classed as diabetes.

In 2011, researchers at the Intermountain Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, UT, investigated how glucose levels and weight were effected by 1 day of water-only fasting in healthy people.

“When we studied the effects of fasting in apparently healthy people, cholesterol levels increased during the one-time 24-hour fast,” says Benjamin Horne, PhD, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute and lead researcher on the new study.


“The changes that were most interesting or unexpected were all related to metabolic health and diabetes risk,” he adds.

“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.”

Consequently, Dr. Horne and team began investigating the effects of fasting in prediabetics. Although Medical News Today does not have details on the number of participants included in the new study, the team has revealed that participants were between the ages of 30 and 69, and each subject also had at least three metabolic risk factors, such as:

  • A large waistline
  • A high triglyceride level
  • A low HDL cholesterol level
  • High blood pressure
  • High fasting blood sugar.

Body ‘feasts’ on bad cholesterol in fat cells, negating insulin resistance effects

The researchers found that during fasting days, the participants’ cholesterol went up slightly, as it had done in the previous study of healthy people. However, over a 6-week period, the cholesterol levels of the prediabetic participants actually decreased by about 12%.

“Because we expect that the cholesterol was used for energy during the fasting episodes and likely came from fat cells,” says Dr. Horne, “this leads us to believe fasting may be an effective diabetes intervention.”

After 10-12 hours of fasting, the body begins to scavenge other sources of energy throughout the body in order to sustain itself. The benefit to prediabetics, Dr. Horne’s team believes, is that because the body feasts on the LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol in fat cells it negates the effect of insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is when insulin production becomes so high that the pancreas can no longer produce the body’s required levels of insulin, which causes blood sugar to rise.

“The fat cells themselves are a major contributor to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes,” Dr. Horne explains. “Because fasting may help to eliminate and break down fat cells, insulin resistance may be frustrated by fasting.”

Although fasting may protect against diabetes, Dr. Horne reminds that it is important to keep in mind that fasting did not achieve overnight results. He adds that more in-depth study is needed to define what the optimum length and frequency of fasting should be in prediabetics.

“Fasting has the potential to become an important diabetes intervention,” he says. “Though we’ve studied fasting and its health benefits for years, we didn’t know why fasting could provide the health benefits we observed related to the risk of diabetes.”

Recently, Medical News Today reported on a study conducted by the University of Southern California in Los Angeles that suggested prolonged fasting may “reboot” the immune system – protecting against the toxic effects of chemotherapy and triggering stem cell regeneration of new immune cells, as well as clearing out old and damaged cells.

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Patients with terminal illnesses benefit from stopping statins

Lipidologist_03.06.2014Statins are typically used to lower blood cholesterol levels by blocking a chemical in the liver necessary for making cholesterol. But new research presented at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology suggests patients in late stages of cancer or other terminal illnesses may extend their lives by discontinuing use of statins.

The researchers, from the University of Colorado (CU) Cancer Center and the Palliative Care Research Cooperative Group, say their findings address the question of when it is beneficial for terminally ill patients to discontinue medications for other conditions that will not cause their death.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research.

Lead investigator Dr. Jean Kutner, of the CU Cancer Center and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, speaks of drugs taken to prevent conditions such as osteoporosis, blood clots,high blood pressure and diabetes:

“These are things people take to prevent something or treat a chronic illness. But particularly in the advancedcancer population, they may not be achieving the intended benefits.”

To investigate, the team enrolled 381 patients who had a high likelihood of dying within a year. The participants had all been taking statins for at least 3 months, but for the study, half were randomized to continue taking statins, while the other half were told to discontinue use.

For up to 1 year, the researchers followed the patients in order to monitor their survival, cardiovascular events and any changes in quality of life.

Patients who stopped taking statins lived longer

The team found that of the 192 patients who continued taking statins, their median survival was 190 days, whereas the 192 patients who stopped taking them had a median survival of 229 days.

Additionally, the patients who stopped taking statins reported a better quality of life, especially in terms of psychological well-being, and they saved $716 per person during the study period for name-brand drugs and $629 for generics.

Dr. Kutner says that, based on their findings, she would advise that patients who are on medications “for primary or secondary prevention – for example, those who have not just had a stroke or heart attack – and have a limited life expectancy of less than 1 year” should discuss the possibility of stopping statins with their physicians.

After using US population estimates, she and her team estimate that as much as $603 million could be saved each year if patients who have a late-stage fatal illness stop taking statins.

During the study, the researchers heard clinicians say that they had “never thought about stopping people’s statins,” Dr. Kutner notes, adding that their research raised awareness.

She continues:

”We tend to be so focused on which medications are effective to start but there’s no research on if and when to stop them. It’s a new line of investigation. Especially in the context of end-of-life care, we believe there are many situations in which preventative drugs may be doing more harm than good.”

Dr. Kutner says their study sheds light on “a setting in which these drugs may not be doing most patients any good anymore, and bringing up the subject of stopping unneeded medications offers the opportunity for shared decision-making.”

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested the cardiovascular benefits of using statins largely outweigh the risks.

Meanwhile, a recent study suggested statins could be effective in fighting the hantavirus, which can lead to a fatal respiratory syndrome.

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