Many people believe that type 2 diabetes is for life, but a new clinical trial has provided some clear evidence that the condition can be reversed, even in patients who have had the condition for years.
A clinical trial that involved almost 300 people in the UK found an intensive weight management program put type 2 diabetes into remission for 86% of patients who lost 15kg (33 lbs) or more.
Roy Taylor, a diabetes researcher from Newcastle University, says that “these findings are very exciting. They could revolutionize the way type 2 diabetes is treated.”
Taylor and his fellow researchers analyzed 298 adults aged 20-65 who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes within the previous six years. The participants were randomly assigned to either an intensive weight management program or to regular diabetic care administered by their GP, acting as a control group.
The 149 individuals placed in the weight management program had to restrict themselves to a low-calorie formula diet consisting of things such as soups and health shakes, limiting their calorie consumption to just 825-853 calories a day for a period of 3-5 months.
After this period, food was reintroduced to their diet over 2-8 weeks, and participants were given support to ensure that they maintained their weight loss. This included cognitive behavioral therapy and help with how to increase their level of physical activity.
Mike Lean, a nutritionist from the University of Glasgow, says that “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.”
For most of those who were willing to make sacrifices, the effort – based on the first year’s results – was more than worth it. Almost 90% of those who lost 15kg (33 lbs) or more, successfully reversed their type 2 diabetes. More than half of those who dropped 10-15kg (22-33 lbs) also achieved remission. For those who lost less weight – between 5-10kg (11-22 lbs) – the reversal still worked for more than a third of participants.
When you consider the fact that the control group receiving standard diabetic care management only saw a 4% remission rate, it’s clear that an interventionist weight loss strategy is a good bet for those who want to reverse their type 2 diabetes.
It’s worth mentioning that most of the participants were white and British, so we shouldn’t assume whether people from different backgrounds would achieve the same results. Nevertheless, the researchers say their results show dietary intervention alone could help revolutionize how we think about type 2 diabetes and its treatment, as it clearly isn’t the permanent, chronic condition we generally assume it is.
Of course, this reversal won't last long if people revert to their former unhealthy ways of eating – which in the majority of cases is what would have contributed to their type 2 diabetes in the first place.
As the trial continues, it will be interesting to see just how many of the group can hold onto their weight loss success. For now, at least, it’s clear that many lives have been changed for the better.
65-year-old Isobel Murray from North Ayrshire, Scotland, participated in this study and she says, “I had type 2 diabetes for two to three years before the study. I was on various medications which were constantly increasing, and I was becoming more and more ill every day. When the doctors told me that my pancreas was working again, it felt fantastic, absolutely amazing. I don’t think of myself as a diabetic anymore…I’m one of the lucky ones.”