The research, published in the journal Diabetologia, reports that a low calorie diet of 600 calories a day for two months can remove excess fat clogging up the pancreas, thus allowing normal insulin secretion to be restored – overturning the long held belief that type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition.
The early stage clinical trail in eleven people reported a 100 per cent reversal of diabetes symptoms during the two month diet period, with 64 per cent of the participants remaining diabetes free three months after the diet had finished.
“To have people free of diabetes after years with the condition is remarkable - and all because of an eight week diet,” said Professor Roy Taylor of Newcastle University, UK, who led the study.
“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.
“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 Taylor
Under close supervision of a medical team, 11 people who had developed diabetes later in life were put on an extreme 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 eight weeks to measure the production of insulin from their pancreas and fat content in the liver and pancreas.
After just one week, the research team found that pre-breakfast blood sugar levels had returned to normal, whilst scans revealed that fat levels in the pancreas had lowered from an elevated level of eight per cent to the healthy, normal level of six per cent.
In combination with the reduction of fat levels, the pancreas was found to regain its normal ability to produce insulin. As a result, blood sugar after meals was reported to steadily improve.
“We believe this shows that Type 2 diabetes is all about energy balance in the body,” explained Taylor, “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.”
The researchers said that the new insight “allows an understanding of the causality of type 2 diabetes in individuals as well as in populations.”
“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,” they concluded.
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1007/s00125-011-2204-7
“Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol”
Authors: E. L. Lim, K. G. Hollingsworth, B. S. Aribisala, M. J. Chen, J. C. Mathers, R. Taylor