A UK research study has shown an extreme low calorie diet can reverse type 2 diabetes. But not all experts agree with the findings.
Type 2 diabetes results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin and is often linked to excess body weight and physical inactivity. Cardiovascular disease, blindness and amputation are among the serious complications associated with the condition.
The small Newcastle University study involved 11 volunteers who had all developed diabetes later in life. They were fed 600 calories of liquid diet drinks and non-starchy vegetables each day for eight weeks.
The researchers found that after just seven days before breakfast blood sugar levels had returned to normal for all 11 people. A special MRI scan of their pancreas also revealed that the fat levels in the pancreas had returned from an elevated level to normal (from around 8% to 6%).
The 11 volunteers were then given advice on portion size and healthy eating and allowed to resume a normal diet. They were followed-up three months later and seven volunteers remained free of diabetes.
In a media release head of the research team, Professor Roy Taylor, says the findings are a radical change in understanding type 2 diabetes. He said:
“While it has long been believed that someone with type 2 diabetes will always have the disease, and that it will steadily get worse, we have shown that we can reverse the condition.”
“We believe this shows that type 2 diabetes is all about energy balance in the body, if you are eating more than you burn, then the excess is stored in the liver and pancreas as fat which can lead to type 2 diabetes in some people. What we need to examine further is why some people are more susceptible to developing diabetes than others.”
Despite the dramatic results some experts are skeptical of a long-term reversal. In an interview with the ABC, Dr Alan Barclay head of research at the Australian Diabetes Council said: “It's a remission of the symptoms, which is great and certainly should be encouraged, but because diabetes is a metabolic disease, it's not something you catch, it will come back again if you go back to your old lifestyle habits.”
In a BBC report Professor Edwin Gale, a diabetes expert from the University of Bristol, says rapid weight loss and reduced diabetes symptoms is not new to researchers in the field. He said:
"We have known that starvation is a good cure for diabetes. If we introduced rationing tomorrow, then we could get rid of diabetes in this country.
"If you can catch people with diabetes in the early stages while beta cells are still functioning, then you can delay its onset for years, but you will get it sooner or later because it's in the system."
A recent study in the Netherlands also adds some weight to this viewpoint. In the study researchers looked at data on 424 people with Type 2 diabetes who received gastric-bypass surgery and 211 who received gastric banding surgery.
Time Heathland reports:
In their analysis, the researchers found that 83% of gastric bypass patients and 62% of the banding patients were able to stop taking medication for their diabetes within a few days of surgery. Even at one- and two-year follow ups, those patients remained off medication. However, for many, the diabetes reversal was short-lived. By the 10-year follow up, only 36% of all patients were able to maintain normal blood glucose levels without medicine.
The Newcastle University researchers agree that follow-up research is needed to explore these issues.
In the meantime, 67-year-old Gordon Parmley from Northumberland, who took part in the Newcastle University study, is pleased to be off his diabetes medication. He also warns that the diet was hard going and describes his experience in the Newcastle media release:
“When my doctor mentioned the trial I thought I would give it a go as it might help me and other diabetics. I came off my tablets and had three diet shakes a day and some salad or vegetables but it was very, very difficult and I’m not sure I’d have done it without the support of my wife who went on a diet alongside me. At first the hunger was quite severe and I had to distract myself with something else – walking the dog, playing golf – or doing anything to occupy myself and take my mind off food but I lost an astounding amount of weight in a short space of time. At the end of the trial, I was told my insulin levels were normal and after six years, I no longer needed my diabetes tablets. Still today, 18 months on, I don’t take them. It’s astonishing really that a diet – hard as it was – could change my health so drastically. After six years of having diabetes I can tell the difference - I feel better, even walking round the golf course is easier.”
Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, welcomed the results of the research but used the Newcastle University media release to warn “this diet is not an easy fix and Diabetes UK strongly recommends that such a drastic diet should only be undertaken under medical supervision.”
Recent World health Organisation (WHO) calculations indicate that approximately 220 million people have diabetes worldwide and almost 3 million deaths per year are attributable to diabetes. WHO are predicting that diabetes deaths will double between 2005 and 2030.
The Newcastle University study was funded by Diabetes UK and recently published in the journalDiabetologia.
Update 26/06/2011: Researchers from Imperial College London and Harvard University analysed data from 2.7m people across every continent, using statistical techniques to project a new worldwide figure. They say the total number of people with diabetes has risen from 153m to 347m. The study was published yesterday in The Lancet.