'Yo-yo diet' could hold key to cure for diabetes
A yo-yo starvation diet that 're-boots' pancreatic cells has been shown to reverse diabetes.
The astonishing result, demonstrated in mice, raises the prospect of treating the condition without drugs that regulate blood sugar or insulin injections.
Members of the US team are now calling for a large government-funded trial to test the approach in humans.
Preliminary findings from a Phase II study of 100 people have already shown that the diet reduces risk factor markers for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Scientists conducting the new research triggered the re-growth of insulin-generating pancreatic cells in diabetic mice and reduced symptoms of both the Type-1 and Type-2 forms of the condition.
The Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) was developed by Professor Valter Longo at the University of Southern California as a way to protect cancer patients from the toxic effects of chemotherapy.
It involves a monthly fasting cycle in which calorie consumption is cut drastically by around two-thirds for five days.
The patient then returns to normal levels of food intake for the remaining 25 days.
To maintain a healthy weight, a man needs to consume 2,500 calories per day and a woman 2,000 calories.
People on Dr Longo's diet make do with fewer than 800 calories during the fasting periods.
For the laboratory mice, the diet was adapted by halving their calorie intake on day one and cutting it to just 10pc of normal levels on days two to four.
After four days, the mice were allowed to eat as much as they wanted for 10 days to rebuild their body weight.
Two different strains of mice were used to mimic the two kinds of diabetes.
Both types of diabetes were reversed by FMD cycles.
Prof Longon said: "Our conclusion is that by pushing the mice into an extreme state and then bringing them back - by starving them and then feeding them again - the cells in the pancreas are triggered to use some kind of developmental reprogramming that rebuilds the part of the organ that's no longer functioning."
Simulating the same approach under laboratory conditions reactivated insulin production in human pancreatic cells taken from patients with Type-1 diabetes.