Wil Dubois

Hey, everyone! Welcome back to our weekly diabetes advice column, Ask D'Mine, published each Saturday. After a short break, we're pleased to be back with some insights from host Wil Dubois in New Mexico, who's not only a longtime type 1 himself but also a diabetes author with many years of experience in a clinic helping people manage their health.

Today, Wil tackles a question from a T2 about all the hype around certain diets that supposedly help restore the pancreas function. Or do they? Read on...

{Got your own questions? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com}

 

Jim, type 2 from California, writes: Thanks for writing your weekly column, I’ve found it to be about the most useful source of information on how to live with this disease, but now I have a question: In the last several weeks there have been a plethora of articles citing a recent USC study showing that a mimicking a fasting diet triggered the generation of new pancreatic cells in mice, stabilizing their blood sugar. That a diet regiment such as the one profiled in the study could actually restore the pancreas to normal functioning seems too good to be true -- what do you make of the study? 

 

Ask D'MineWil@Ask D’Mine answers: Thanks for the kind words, Jim. And thanks for writing in with your question. Now, let’s get started. I confess that I’m certifiably jaded -- at least when it come to diabetes miracle cures -- so like you, my first reaction to the news was that it sounded too good to be true. But that said, there are some really exciting results here that we need to pay attention to. Still, as you’ll see, there might also be a conflict of interest at the heart of this research.

The study in question, led by Valter Longo, PhD, Director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, claims to have “rescued” mice from late-stage diabetes—both type 1 and type 2—via a dietary intervention.

Actually, given that the Director of the Longevity Institute was named Longo, and that the claims were so outrageous, I initially assumed the whole story was an April Fools prank in bad taste. But this is a real study, with the results published in the journal Cell this February.

For background, Longo and his team of scientists have been studying what is called a fasting mimicking diet (FMD) for some time, looking to it as a fountain of youth and as a life-extending intervention. Just what is FMD? It’s described as being fasting with food, which I grant you sounds oxymoronic. Apparently, for five days per month people on this diet eat only foods that the body does not “recognize” as food, reportedly causing the body to enter into “fasting mode.”

These body-tricking foods are low both in carbs and proteins, while being high in fatty acids. So just what kinds of foods would those be, exactly? The company L-Nutra, which was founded by Longo, has provided some of the foods used in his various studies. They sell a five-day pack of food boxes called ProLon, which includes kale crackers, hibiscus tea, vegetable soup, and olives. Their website says their five-day meal plan “comprises proprietary plant-based soups, bars, drinks, snacks, herbal teas, vitamins, and supplements.”Prolon diet foods

What does it cost? Good question. When you click on the “buy now” link you get to a page that tells you that, “Although the effects of ProLon could benefit most individuals, ProLon should not be consumed by everyone, as there is exclusion criteria.” To even see a price you would need to take a Health Self-Assessment Survey and schedule a call with a dietitian or nurse practitioner at ProLon. Or you can also see your (participating) doc and get a Health Care Provider Authorization Code. Hmmmmm…

But I did discover that ProLon’s Aussie site states, “The price of one ProLon box is normally US $299,” before it went on to say that there’s a special introductory price for those Down Under.

So, pretty expensive olives and veggie soups.

Wait a sec. How did diabetes come into all of this? Well, it seems that Longo and his team are just working their way through all the ills of the world. Their previous work claims to have shown that his diet has “shown potential” for reducing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, makes chemo work better in cancer patients, reduces risk for cancer in the first place, extends life span, and reduces heart disease. 

I guess it only made sense to look at diabetes.

For the diabetes study Longo and his crew created type 1 mice by poisoning them with high doses of beta cell-toxic streptozotocin, which killed their beta cells dead. For the type 2 mice they had access to genetically bred mice with type 2.

Then they broke out the lunch boxes.

The study reports that alternating cycles of four-day FMD per month and normal diet (not defined) reprogrammed the mices’ non-insulin-producing cells into insulin-producing cells. It’s all Greek to me, but apparently while eating the diet the mice showed increased Sox17 and Pdx-1, which activated Ngn3, which in turn generated insulin-producing beta cells in a process that resembled the fetal development of the pancreas.

Which is pretty damned interesting.

Even more interesting than how our poisoned and genetically altered mouse friends did when chowing down the three-hundred-dollar box lunches, is the fact that Longo’s study also looked at human cells from people with type 1 diabetes.

In human cells from type 1s, we’re told that FMD reduced PKA and mTOR, which in turn increased Sox2 and Ngn3 to increase insulin production. How on earth they got the cells in the petri dishes to eat the food boxes wasn’t clear to me.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Actually they apparently just deprived the cells of fuel, making them “fast,” and noted the results, which was suggestive of a similar effect in humans as the mice had eating the lunch boxes.

But the study leaves us with some interesting problems. The T1 mice in this study didn’t have autoimmune diabetes. Their beta cells were chemically killed. It’s astounding that new ones grew back. Or maybe not. In the absence of an autoimmune assault, would the beta cells have regenerated on a diet of Cheetos? I don’t know. And I’m also not sure that one type of fuel restriction (no fuel) correlates to another type (FMD).

We are also left with the unanswered question of how on earth this actually works, although the theoretical answer seems to be evolution. We became a species at a time when regular food was no guarantee, so it could simply be that we are built to sometimes fast, and that to stay healthy we need to. If that’s true, this sort of fasting is easier, and arguably safer, than a week-long water fast

Should you try this at home?

Not FDA ApprovedI wouldn’t. Not yet. In fact, even Longo himself is against it. At the end of the press release from USC, in BOLD is a note stating that Dr. Longo says “don’t do this at home.” Well, he actually said, “DO NOT try to apply any type of fasting mimicking diet to treat either type 1 or type 2 diabetes either on your own or with the help of a doctor.” He goes on to say that while his method looks “promising” it “must be tested and proven safe and effective for human use.”

He argues, and rightly so, that his discovery warrants more research using human subjects. In one of the USC press releases he’s quoted as saying, “Hopefully, people with diabetes could one day be treated with an FDA-approved fasting-mimicking diet for a few days each month and gain control over their insulin production and blood sugar.”

I imagine he does hope for that. But being certifiably jaded, it occurs to me that he would get royalties from every box of ProLon sold; and that inherent conflict of interest leaves me luke warm, at best, on the whole story.

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.
Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

Disclaimer

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.