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This popular weight-loss strategy might help with Type 2 diabetes


Intermittent fasting is enjoying a moment in many American households. By some accounts, it's almost as popular as counting calories or plant-based diets. Now, new research bolsters the case that it can also be helpful for managing Type 2 diabetes. NPR's Will Stone reports.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: A big reason why time-restricted eating, a form of intermittent fasting, can be so appealing is that it's simple and easy to stick with. You only eat during a certain window of time every day, typically lasting six to 10 hours. Research suggests this helps people lose weight because they just end up eating less. Dr. Joanne Bruno, an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health, says she hears this from patients who've tried losing weight by counting calories.

JOANNE BRUNO: So there's something about not having to constantly think about how many calories we're eating. It feels a lot less restrictive and feels a lot more doable for patients.

STONE: While it's still an emerging field, a growing number of studies do find that time-restricted eating can improve metabolic health and deliver weight loss. But few have looked at how this fares among people with Type 2 diabetes.

BRUNO: I think this is pretty exciting data.

STONE: Bruno's talking about a new study published today that followed people with Type 2 diabetes on a noon-to-8-p.m. eating schedule. After six months, people had lost about 10 pounds. Meanwhile, it was about six pounds for those who tried to lose weight by counting calories. Krista Varady is a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois Chicago and led the study.

KRISTA VARADY: I was surprised that they lost more weight.

STONE: Varady says her other studies on time-restricted eating tend to find about the same amount of weight loss, not more. But she got a sense of what could be going on from interviews with participants in the study.

VARADY: People with Type 2 diabetes are just so sick of being recommended calorie restriction because that's, like, the go-to diet. I think that's why they probably did better on this diet.

STONE: They also tracked blood sugar levels. Both groups had about the same reductions after six months, improvements that Dr. Pam Taub calls clinically significant. Taub is a cardiologist at the University of California San Diego. She says time-restricted eating has real potential for people with conditions affecting metabolic and cardiovascular health.

PAM TAUB: You get the most bang for the buck with this type of population. And that's what really they showed.

STONE: In fact, Taub's research has found that, for people with metabolic syndrome, a 10-hour eating window improves their ability to manage blood sugar and reduces blood pressure and cholesterol. In an era of blockbuster weight loss and diabetes drugs, Taub says this study is an important reminder.

TAUB: When we have lifestyle and pharmacotherapy, it synergizes. So it's not one or the other. We need both strategies, and lifestyle strategies are free.

STONE: Taub says patients with Type 2 diabetes should not try this without medical supervision because medications may need to be adjusted. The study only had 75 people, so Varady says larger trials are needed. She doesn't think the results prove that time-restricted eating is better than counting calories, just that it's another option to try. Will Stone, NPR News.

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Will Stone
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