It had been thought that Type 2 diabetes is irreversible. Once a patient is diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, the condition is a lifelong struggle. However, a study in June 2011 revealed that this isn’t the case. Although, the sample size is small—consisting of 11 participants, the results were staggering and gave new hope to patients with type 2 diabetes.
Newly diagnosed patients can make a full recovery from type 2 diabetes if they eat a low-calorie diet. Current treatments include pharmaceuticals and insulin injections to combat high levels of glucose in the blood.
The Newcastle Study: 600 calories a day
Professor Roy Taylor of Newcastle University asked 11 volunteers, who were newly diagnosed with diabetes, to participate in an “extreme diet.” The diabetes diet consisted of specially formulated drinks and non-starchy vegetables that would be administered to the volunteers for an eight week period. Participants decreased their food intake to 600 calories a day for two months. Compare this with the average calorie intake for women at around 2,000 calories/day and 2,500 calories/day for men.
A medical team closely monitored the participants over the course of the study. A control group was also created consisting of 11 people who also recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but this group was not put on the 600-calorie-a-day diet.
One week into the study, the medical team found pre-breakfast blood sugar levels had returned to normal, and MRI scans revealed that the pancreas regained its normal ability to produce insulin.
Full recovery from type 2 diabetes is possible
The UK study concluded that a full recovery from type 2 diabetes was possible for newly diagnosed patients if they follow a strict diet regime. At the conclusion of the study, seven out of the 11 patients were free of diabetes. The study was presented at the American Diabetes Association and showed that this extreme diabetes diet results in removal of fat from the pancreas. By removing this fat, the pancreas is able to make insulin more efficiently.
“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,” said Prof Taylor.
One patient saw the improvements a year and half after the study was completed. “At the end of the trial, I was told my insulin levels were normal and after six years, I no longer needed my diabetes tablet,” said Gordon Parmley.
“Still today, 18 months on, I don’t take them,” added Parmley. “It’s astonishing really that a diet – hard as it was – could change my health so drastically.”
The long-term benefits are still unclear
Despite the study’s success, the long-term benefits of the strict regime are still unclear. Another factor that could derail a patient’s progress is the patient’s unwillingness to continue on the diabetes diet. Prof Taylor predicts that that only 5% of the participants would stick with the “extreme diet.”
Another drawback is that the diabetes diet requires medical assistance and monitoring. Dr. Iain Frame, the director of research at Diabetes UK, advises that such a drastic diet change needs be “undertaken under medical supervision.” However, he is optimistic about these 2011 findings and remains hopeful that these benefits will be seen in the long term.