Diabetes 'reversed by strict diet'
People with Type 2 diabetes could reverse their condition by following a very low calorie diet, according to new research.
Professor Roy Taylor of Newcastle University, who led the study, said that the "remarkable" findings showed an eight-week diet could prompt the body to produce its own insulin.
The research, which was published in the journal Diabetologia and funded by Diabetes UK, suggests a dramatic drop in calories has a direct effect on reducing fat accumulated in the pancreas, which in turn prompts insulin cells to "wake up".
Just 600 calories a day as part of a special diet could be enough to reverse Type 2 diabetes in some patients. The condition affects almost 3.5 million people in the UK. The findings are consistent with the belief that a lack of insulin secretion - which is vital for blood sugar control - is due to accumulation of fat in the liver and pancreas.
Experts at Newcastle University carried out an early-stage trial on 11 people with diabetes. They each followed a diet of liquid drinks (containing 46.4% carbohydrate, 32.5% protein and 20.1% fat, with vitamins and minerals) and non-starchy vegetables.
After just one week, pre-breakfast blood sugar levels had returned to normal among the group. Over two months, insulin cell function in the pancreas increased towards normal and pancreatic fat decreased, as shown on MRI scans.
Three months later, after going back to normal eating with advice on portion control and healthy foods, seven people remained free of diabetes.
Prof Taylor said: "For many years, it has been assumed that Type 2 diabetes is a life sentence.
"It's chronic, it's progressive, people need more and more tablets, and eventually they need insulin. It's a downhill slope. However, we have been able to show that it is in fact reversible. We have been able to put diabetes into reverse by a very low calorie diet over a short period of time."
Prof Taylor, who hopes the research will be translated into future treatments, added: "It is quite possible that we may be able to devise medicines that block the effect of fat at the level of the pancreas, and could allow normal function. So, we are at quite an exciting point in terms of looking forward to really making an impact upon Type 2 diabetes."