PATIENTS with the most common type of diabetes could have their condition cured if they follow a very low calorie diet, pioneering research by North East scientists suggests.
Experts at Newcastle University have carried out a preliminary clinical trial on 11 North East people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and their findings have the potential to revolutionise the lives of people with the long-term condition who often rely on tablets, insulin injections and strict diets.
The early stage study found that all had their diabetes reversed by slashing their food intake to just 600 calories every day for eight weeks.
Three months later seven remained free of diabetes and leader of the study, Prof Roy Taylor, said it was viable that Type 2 diabetes would stay away if people kept their weight down and remained on a healthy, balanced diet.
Prof Taylor, director of the Newcastle Magnetic Resonance Centre, said: “The study is an exciting development for those with Type 2 diabetes as it has shown the condition can be reversed.
“Our research has allowed us to gain a better understanding into what is going on with the condition and it will change the way it is explained to people who have been newly diagnosed. While it has long been believed that someone with Type 2 diabetes will always have the disease we have shown that we can reverse the condition.
“Although we can’t draw any firm conclusions from this preliminary study we feel Type 2 diabetes will stay away provided people keep their weight down.”
The £126,000 research was funded by Diabetes UK and began in September 2009. It was carried out on men and women from the region between the ages of 20 and 70 who had been diagnosed with the condition for up to four years. The research will be unveiled later today at the American Diabetes Association conference in San Diego and is published in the medical journal, Diabetologia.
It shows that people who consume an extremely low calorie diet can remove fat which is clogging up the pancreas allowing normal insulin secretion to be restored.
Under close medical supervision, the participants in the study were placed on a strict diet of just 600 calories a day consisting of liquid diet drinks and non-starchy vegetables.
They were matched to a control group of people without diabetes and then monitored over two months. Insulin production from their pancreas and fat content in the liver and pancreas was studied.
After just one week, the team found that their pre-breakfast blood sugar levels had returned to normal. A special MRI scan of the participants’ pancreas revealed that the fat levels in the pancreas had returned from an elevated level to normal and the pancreas regained the normal ability to make insulin and as a result, blood sugar after meals steadily improved. The volunteers were then followed-up three months later. By that time they had returned to a normal diet but had received advice on portion size and healthy eating.
Although the study focused on those with onset diabetes, it is believed the technique could work for anyone with Type 2 diabetes.
Prof Taylor added: “Diabetes is a condition that can impact seriously on an individual’s health, particularly the eyes, kidney and heart.
“Our research will not reverse the tide in the increasing numbers of those diagnosed with the condition. However, it will allow people who suffer Type 2 diabetes, and who are motivated to get rid of their condition, to try to do that.
“What we need to examine further is why some people are more susceptible to developing diabetes than others.”
The Newcastle University research was welcomed by leading healthcare charity Diabetes UK but it stressed that those with the condition should not go on a crash diet.
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.”
The research by the Newcastle University team followed an investigation undertaken more than four years ago by the Catholic University of Rome which showed that gastric surgery could cure Type 2 diabetes. Gastric bypass surgery is performed as a last resort to help severely obese people lose weight, but doctors found that up to 98% of patients who also had late-onset diabetes appeared to be cured within weeks of surgery.
Page 3 - CASE STUDY: Gordon Parmley >>
CASE STUDY: Gordon Parmley
PENSIONER Gordon Parmley has suffered Type 2 diabetes for years and controlled his condition with a cocktail of daily tablets.
The 67-year-old was keen to take part in the preliminary trial at Newcastle University and he said that although it was difficult to only consume 600 calories a day he was delighted at the result.
Mr Parmley, of Stocksfield in Northumberland, said: "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 focussing. It was after this that I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
"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 years of having diabetes I can tell the difference – I feel better, even walking round the golf course is easier."