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Can diet alone reverse Type 2 diabetes?

Research funded by Diabetes UK and carried out by a team from Newcastle University has discovered that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed by an extremely low-calorie diet alone.

In an early stage clinical trial of 11 people, all reversed their diabetes by drastically cutting their food intake to just 600 calories a day for two months. And three months later, seven remained free of diabetes.

‘Remarkable’ results

Professor Roy Taylor of Newcastle University, who led the study and is also Director of the Newcastle Magnetic Resonance Centre, said: “To have people free of diabetes after years with the condition is remarkable - and all because of an eight-week diet.

“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. While 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.”

Liquid diet drinks and non-starchy vegetable diet

Under close supervision of a medical team, the participants’ diet consisted 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. Insulin production from their pancreas and fat content in the liver and pancreas was studied.

Pancreas regained ability to make insulin

After just one week, the Newcastle University team found that their pre-breakfast blood glucose levels had returned to normal.

A special MRI scan of their pancreas revealed that the fat levels in the pancreas had returned from an elevated level (8%) to a normal (6%) level. In step with this, the pancreas regained the normal ability to make insulin and as a result, blood glucose after meals steadily improved.

The volunteers were returned to eating normally but had received advice on portion size and healthy eating.

Diet should only be undertaken under medical supervision

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.”

Diabetes UK is keen to stress this study involved an extreme diet conducted under close medical supervision. We strongly recommend people do not attempt to lose weight in this way. People with diabetes who want to lose weight should consult their healthcare team before undertaking any eating plan and read our information on how safe dieting can help manage diabetes.

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