Better control of low-grade inflammation—a key player in the development of diabetic retinopathy (DR)—may be achievable with an intermittent, or every other day, fasting (IF) diet, according to a new study using a mouse model. Findings will be presented this Thursday in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the ARVO conference..

After monitoring diabetic and control mice on either an unrestricted or IF diet for nine months, researchers realized IF dieting affected neither blood glucose levels nor body weight—but it did protect against DR. The mice not on the IF diet had significantly more circulating Ly6Chi monocytes and monocytes infiltrating into the retina (indicators of inflammation), significantly higher expression of TNF-α in the retina and macrophages that produced more TNF-α upon stimulation.

“The fed/ fasted state of the IF diet regulated the circulation and function of white blood cells, leaving IF treated diabetic mice exposed to their detrimental effects only during the fed state, i.e. half of their life-time, reducing thus, progression of diabetic complications,” the researchers concluded.

“In this mouse model, intermittent fasting reduced all inflammatory mediators during the fasting period, but not during the feeding period,” says Joseph P. Shovlin, OD, of Scranton, PA. “This may translate to a protective effect in developing DR in humans by the temporal regulation of inflammatory mediators through changes in lipid metabolism via IF diets. This might lower toxic metabolites, which in turn might reduce the development of DR in humans.” Experts caution that human trials would be necessary prior to developing any clinical recommendations.

Beli E, Moldovan L, Duan Y, et al. Intermittent fasting (IF) prevents development of diabetic retinopathy (DR) by regulating low-grade inflammation through changes in lipid metabolism. ARVO 2018. Abstract 6002.