Very low calorie diet reverses diabetes

  • 24 Jun 2011
  • Reading time 5 mins
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Reported in the Guardian today are the results of an eight week crash diet on diabetes (type 2). Seven out of eleven volunteers were free from diabetes three months later.

The trial, reported today in the American Diabetes Association’s conference and published in the journal Diabetologia, gave type 2 diabetics a very low, 600 calorie diet for eight weeks. Now, this isn’t easy to follow however the results may well be worth it. It came out of the observation that many people with diabetes, who have their stomachs stapled, report reversal of diabetes. Professor Roy Taylor from Newcastle University wondered if the big drop in calories might be the reason and set out to find out. While the general belief is that type-2 diabetes leads to irreversible damage to beta- cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, and that you can therefore only control diabetes, not reverse it, this study proves that this belief is wrong.

"This study demonstrates for the first time the time course of a return of normal beta cell function in individuals with type 2 diabetes." says Taylor. “To have people free of diabetes after years with the condition is remarkable – and all because of an eight-week diet," he said. “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." Much of the fat we accumulate is made in the liver from sugar.

This study showed a dramatic reduction in glucose production in the liver and a reduction in fat levels in the pancreas, suggesting that insulin producing cells are not destroyed but disarmed by too much fat in the pancreas. By burning off this fat beta-cells come back to life. I believe that this is the effect of eating what is essentially a very low GL diet. By cutting food intake so drastically the body not only burns fat, but also doesn’t need to produce so much insulin. These may be the two conditions that bring insulin producing cells back to life.The eight weeks allows a reversal of the conditions that led to diabetes in the first place. One of the best measures of healthy glucose control is the level of 'glycosylated haemoglobin' or HbA1c. This means sugar-coated red blood cells. You certainly want less than 6% and ideally less than 5.5%. The more blood sugar spikes, due to too much glucose and not enough functioning insulin, the higher the HbA1c ( above 7 means very high diabetes risk).

In this study the volunteers' HbA1c levels went from 7.4 to 6% in 8 weeks. That's a 20% decrease. The volunteers lost, on average 15kg or 33lbs. We get similar excellent results in diabetics following my Low GL Diet principles. Recently, a GP practice put 23 patients on the edge of diabetes through our Zest4Life programme for 12 weeks – diet only, no supplements. Glycosylated haemoglobin went from 6.9 to 5.9 (14.5% reduction) and the average weight lost was 1 stone (13lbs). So, the very low calorie approach produces a more rapid return to healthier HbA1c levels (eight weeks versus 12 weeks) and a rapid burning off of body fat. However, it is not easy to eat so little. The idea of pulling out all the stops for eight weeks to kickstart the healing process is intriguing. It fits in with what’s being learnt about low calorie diets and reversing ageing. Eating between 500 and 800 kcals can switch genes away from diabetes.

The authors of this study also propose that a contributor to the results is a genetic effect. Interestingly, in animal studies you don’t have to do this every day, but every other day, for one month to turn genetic expression away from diabetes. An easy way to do this would be to have a Get Up & Go shake, made with low-fat milk, soya or oat milk and a handful of berries and a 30g scoop of Get Up & Go. With milk and a handful of berries it’s under 300 kcals so you can have this twice a day and still be well under 800kcals. You could even add a teaspoon of chia seeds and up the protein, fibre and omega 3 content and perhaps a teaspoon of a highly soluble calorie-free fibre such as glucomannan. It would be really interesting to see what would happen if you did this every other day, then follow a strict low GL diet (40 GLs a day – no desserts or drinks other than water), for a month to six weeks.

This is a softer option and time will tell whether a hard, 600kcal diet or an easier 800kcal diet, either every day or every other day works best. if you try any of these strategies please let me know. Please make sure you tell your doctor what you intend to do as it will effect your need for medication. In this study all volunteers were withdrawn from medication prior to the study. My new book Say No to Diabetes will be ready to order next week and does explain clearly how to reverse type 2 diabetes, although not so rapidly as this small study has achieved. I’ll also be doing a Diabesity Workshop in Johannesburg, Nairobi, Dublin, London, Dubai, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Manila and Singapore from the end of August through to November – full details to be announced on the website next week. Of course, much of what can be learnt about diabetes reversal is also applicable for rapid and healthy weight loss and restoring cardiovascular health.