Newcastle scientists are to help carry out a study to discover whether a low-calorie diet really can send type 2 diabetes into remission.
The charity Diabetes UK is funding the project, which aims to give a definitive answer on whether consuming just 800 calories a day can reverse the disease, linked to obesity.
In the UK, around 3.8 million people have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, with type 2 accounting for about 90% of cases. The £2.4m study will be carried out by researchers at Newcastle University and the University of Glasgow. It will see 140 people with type 2 diabetes spend between eight and 20 weeks consuming just 800 calories per day, mainly in the form of liquid formula shakes. Then, as normal meals are reintroduced, they will learn how to change their lifestyles permanently. Over a two-year follow-up, the results will be compared with 120 people following current recommendations for losing weight.
As well as monitoring the long-term effects of the diet, some of the participants will have MRI scans which will show researchers what is happening inside the body during the diet.
A 2011 study in the journal Diabetologia found a diet of 600 calories a day could reverse type 2 diabetes in people newly diagnosed with the disease.
The Newcastle University study found the low-calorie diet reduced fat levels in the pancreas and liver, which helped insulin production return to normal.
Seven out of 11 people studied were free of diabetes three months later.
Diabetes UK is now keen to carry out a larger study with a longer follow-up that will closely examine the long-term effect of such diets.
Dr Matthew Hobbs, head of research for the charity, said: “Type 2 diabetes will always be a serious health condition, but perhaps it won’t always be seen as a condition that people have to manage for the rest of their lives and that worsens inevitably over time. The 2011 study and evidence from bariatric surgery has shown us that it can be put into remission.
“If we can do this safely, on a bigger scale and as part of routine care, then following a low-calorie liquid diet would be a real game changer in terms of reducing people’s risk of devastating health complications such as amputation and blindness.”
Professor Roy Taylor, lead researcher at Newcastle University, said: “We are exploring uncharted territory and along the way there will be challenges, details to unravel, and other questions to ask. But I believe this study will lead to a quantum leap forward in our understanding of how best to manage type 2 diabetes.”