Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

The cure for diabetes

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I was recently informed that there is a cure for type 2 diabetes. Apparently researchers in Newcastle have found a way to reverse type 2 diabetes. According to their website:

Our work has shown that type 2 diabetes is not inevitably progressive and life-long. We have demonstrated that in people who have had type 2 diabetes for 4 years or less, major weight loss returns insulin secretion to normal.

Obviously, we dietitians have been recommending weight loss, diet, and lifestyle changes for many years. However, these changes rarely result in a complete reversal of the condition. The best case scenario is usually that the patient is able to manage their diabetes without the need for medications. More often though, it means that the progress of type 2 diabetes is slowed and less medication is needed to keep blood sugars reasonably stable. Despite this research having been conducted back in 2008 this was the first that I had heard of it.

For those interested, the complete study Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol is available here. To summarize, they looked at eleven people whom had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes within the previous four years. Yes, that’s correct, eleven people. That’s a pretty small sample size. That means that no matter how astounding the results, it’s impossible to say if they will be applicable to the majority of people with type 2 diabetes.

The results of the study were quite good. All of the participants saw dramatic improvements in both fasting blood sugar and plasma insulin levels after only one week. In fact, after only one week of the eight week program, these levels were indistinguishable from a non-diabetic control group. Because normalization of beta cell function and insulin levels were seen in the participants, they were deemed “cured” of type 2 diabetes upon completion of the study.

What exactly did the researchers do to “cure” these people? They placed them on strict 600 kcal a day diets. Now, I don’t know about you, but that number shocked me. 600 kcal a day is extremely low. Most medically supervised low-calorie liquid diets for obese patients still have them consuming 800 kcal a day. Most weight management programs recommend patients consume at least 1, 200 kcal a day. For most people, 600 kcal is one meal (for many people, it’s less than one meal). In this study, participants consumed 510 kcal worth of Optifast shakes per day and were encouraged to supplement with non-starchy vegetables and drink at least two litres of water (and other calorie-free beverages) each day.

Because there was no follow-up with participants upon completion of the eight week study, there is no way to know for certain if they were actually cured of their diabetes or if it returned after they completed the program. Even supposing the diet is a cure for type 2 diabetes I can’t help but wonder how many people would be able to adhere to 600 kcal a day for eight weeks. As with any medicine, it doesn’t do any good if patients won’t take it. I suspect that the majority of people would forego the cure of such a strict diet.

All issues with this being touted as a “cure” for type 2 diabetes aside, I would like to see further research in this area. Larger, longer studies would be interesting. I’d also like to see a variety of levels of caloric restriction used as well as different sources of nutrition (not just shakes).

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

6 thoughts on “The cure for diabetes

  1. Sounds like Ideal Protein, only a more severe restriction in calories. Questions that come to mind are similar… what happens when you start eating real food again? How do people who also have low blood sugar issues deal with no eating for hours on end? Seems to be a crazy statement and another example of how insane this whole topic has become – especially by people who should know better than to make such grandiose claims.

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  2. First off, a “Gang of 11” doesn’t sound like a very good sample… and I have to wonder what the ‘deal’ was with these eleven.

    Were they hand picked for this survey because of certain issues related to how/when they were diagnosed as Type 2, or were any of them on the VERGE of Type 2 and actually pre-diabetic?

    Were any of them females who had experienced gestational diabetes, didn’t shake it and then were later diagnosed as Type 2?

    Had any of them experienced a rapid weight gain over the prior year or two that ‘pushed them over the edge’ into diabetes?

    SOME of us diagnosed as Type 2 diabetics gained weight over a long period of time, had experienced no symptoms of diabetes for years and then rather suddenly began experiencing symptoms. In most cases, Type 2 diabetics have a working pancreas, but it doesn’t produce sufficient insulin to serve the body’s increased needs.

    However, in other cases, some of us have a completely non-functional pancreas, not simply insulin resistance, but an actual insulin deficiency. I can almost guarantee you NONE of the 11 in this test case were like that, and if they had been none of them would have been “cured of their diabetes” .

    As for 600 kcal a day… I hope none of these people attempted to workout, or even live normally active lives. And as for the ‘shakes’ as their primary sustenance, well, some can (or are willing to) do it, but many are NOT. Artificial sweeteners, a bad after taste, and while they may contain some form of liquid protein and vitamins and minerals… they’re like what they give people on life support in a hospital to keep them alive…. they aren’t ‘food’.

    I can attest to the fact that a radical change in diet will seriously reduce the amount of insulin a diabetic has to take, and if you have a ‘normally’ functioning pancreas and may be on oral medications for diabetes care, you MAY be able to reduce or even eliminate your needs for medications (ALWAYS MAKE SURE you’re working closely with your Dr/Endocrinologist if you start a food change regimen! ). But IO can’t see how you’re going to be cured in 8 weeks.

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  3. Sounds too good to be true…

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  4. I would not call it a cure , I would call it starvation

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