Diabetes affects 8.3% of the US population, a total of 25.8 million people; 18.8 million diagnosed plus another 7 million undiagnosed. Approximately 2.5 million people in the UK are affected by diabetes type two. In most countries worldwide diabetes rates are climbing.
This latest study, funded by Diabetes UK, involved 11 volunteers with newly diagnosed diabetes type 2. All patients reversed their diabetes by reducing their daily calorie intake to 600 per day for two months. Three months after completing their diets, seven of them were still diabetes-free, the authors wrote.
Study leader, Professor Roy Taylor, said:
"To have people free of diabetes after years with the condition is remarkable - and all because of an eight week diet. This is a radical change in understanding Type 2 diabetes. It will change how we can explain it to people newly diagnosed with the condition. 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."
The scientists, who presented their findings at the American Diabetes Association conference, say that diet can help remove fat from the pancreas, resulting in normal secretion of insulin.
To date, diabetes type two is seen as a chronic (long-term) progressive condition - the patient starts off with a special diet, then takes tablets, and eventually needs insulin injections.
Type 2 diabetes was once a condition that only affected people during adulthood, that is why it is also known as adult-onset diabetes. However, more and more children and teenagers are developing the condition these days.
Diabetes type 2 occurs either because the pancreas is not producing enough insulin, or the body is not reacting to the insulin properly (insulin sensitivity).
The 600 calorie per day dietThe 11 patients were put on a 600 calorie-per-day diet of liquid drinks and non-starchy vegetables. They were closely monitored by a team of healthcare professionals. They were matched to a cohort group of healthy individuals (without diabetes). A medical team monitored them for eight weeks. The researchers also studied their liver fat content and pancreas insulin production.
All participants' pre-breakfast blood sugar levels were back to normal within just seven days.
MRI scans of the pancreas showed that pancreas fat levels, which were high, also returned to normal, resulting in normal insulin secretion and better blood sugar levels after meals.
When the eight weeks were over the volunteers were given advice on healthy eating and portion size, but returned to normal life without medical monitoring of their food intake. A follow-up three months later found that seven of the eleven were still diabetes free.
Professor Taylor said:
"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."
Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said:
"We welcome the results of this research because it shows that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed, on a par with successful surgery without the side effects. However, this diet is not an easy fix and Diabetes UK strongly recommends that such a drastic diet should only be undertaken under medical supervision. Despite being a very small trial, we look forward to future results particularly to see whether the reversal would remain in the long term."
Trial participant, Gordon Parmley (67) said:
"I no longer needed my diabetes tablets. I love playing golf but I was finding that when I was out on the course sometimes my vision would go fuzzy and I would have trouble focusing. It was after this that I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. That was about six years ago and from then on, I had to control the diabetes with a daily combination of tablets - the diabetes drug, gliclazide and tablets for my cholesterol.
"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."
Referring to the results of this study, the authors concluded:
"It carries major implications for information to be given to newly diagnosed patients, who should know that they have a potentially reversible condition and not one that is inevitably progressive.
"Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol"
E. L. Lim & K. G. Hollingsworth & B. S. Aribisala & M. J. Chen & J. C. Mathers & R. Taylor
Diabetologia DOI 10.1007/s00125-011-2204-7