Doctors in the UK just announced that people enrolled in a radical weight loss program were able to reverse type 2 diabetes. The outcome was published in the leading academic journal the Lancet.
Because the diet program is so intense, doctors warn that it should always be done under medical supervision. The diet involves consuming only 825-853 calories per day in the form of soups and shakes. To put that in perspective, the recommended calorie dose per day is 2,000kcal for women and 2,500kcal for men.
After 3 to 5 months, dieters slowly readjust to eating normal food, as well as begin cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise.
On average, people undertaking the diet program lost 10kg (22lbs) over the course of a year, and 50% no longer had to take medicine to treat their condition. The effect was especially alarming with people that lost over 15kg (33lbs); a whopping 86% were able to reverse diabetes.
“These findings could revolutionize the way type 2 diabetes is treated,” said Dr. Roy Taylor, the study lead based at Newcastle University.
Prof Mike Lean, a co-author from Glasgow University, concurs. “It’s hugely exciting,” he told the BBC. “We now have clear evidence that weight loss of 10-15kg is enough to turn this disease around.”
To the research team’s surprise, many people were more than willing to give a shot at this hard-core trial, dubbed DiRECT.
“We’ve found that people were really interested in this approach – almost a third of those who were asked to take part in the study agreed. This is much higher than usual acceptance rates for diabetes clinical trials,” explained Dr. Lean.
Isobel Murray, a 65 year-old woman, was one of the 298 people on the trial. “When my doctor mentioned the DiRECT trial, I jumped at the chance,” she said in an interview.
Off she went, taking only liquid food, four times a day, for 17 weeks. Instead of cooking, she made her “meals”, i.e. soups and shakes, by mixing a packet of powder with water. The packets have about 200 calories and have a good nutrient balance.
“The diet was very difficult – I can’t say otherwise. Having just liquid rather than actual food for such a long time is odd,” she said. “You have to be fired up, you have to be prepared, but anybody can do it if you feel strongly enough.”
By the end of two years, she lost 22kg (48lbs) and no longer needs her meds. “It has transformed my life,” she said.
A cure without advanced tech
Worldwide, one in 11 adults have diabetes, and about 90% are type 2.
Type 2 diabetes occur when fat accumulates around the pancreas, which controls blood sugar levels. As the cells get stressed from the fat buildup, they release less insulin, the chemical that lowers blood sugar. In the worst-case scenario, people with type 2 diabetes suffer heart and kidney disease, blindness, or limb amputations.
Diabetes was long considered irreversible. To manage the disease, doctors gave guidance on diet, but the main focus was on controlling blood sugar levels through drugs.
Sometimes an option is to undergo bariatric surgery, a procedure that limits the stomach’s capacity to hold food. Although it has also shown promise in reversing type 2 diabetes, it’s expensive and risky; it’s not a choice everyone can afford.
Thanks to this study though, doctors now know that complex medical procedures aren’t the only hope for reversing diabetes. Dr. Taylor explains that losing tons of weight reduces the fat inside the liver and the pancreas, helping it go back to work like it should. Weight loss isn’t just a way to manage diabetes anymore – it’s a promising strategy to scrap it for good.