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December 14, 2011, 1:15 pm diabeticliving
Will it work for you?
An eight-week extreme diet that ‘cures’ type 2 diabetes made world headlines last month. So, is it really the solution we’ve all been hoping for and how does it work?Researchers in the UK put 11 recently diagnosed volunteers on a meagre 2500 kilojoules
(or 600 calories) a day. They drank Optifast for breakfast, lunch and dinner and ate only non-starchy vegetables such as onions, celery, capsicum and cucumber.
After just a week, their pre-breakfast BGLs had returned to normal, which suggested that, in each person, the pancreas had resumed functioning correctly. By the end of eight weeks, all the volunteers had normal insulin cell readings, meaning they had successfully ‘reversed’ their diabetes. (They had also shed around 8-12 kilos, or 10 per cent of their original body weight.) Pretty amazing stuff!One of the participants, Gordon Parmley, 67, told a UK newspaper, “It’s astonishing really that a diet, hard as it was, could change my health so drastically. Eighteen months on,
I still don’t need my diabetes tablets.”So how does it work?
For some time, it’s been noticed that people who had gastric banding surgery to radically reduce the capacity of their stomach not only shed a lot of weight fast, but in the process sometimes lost all sign of their diabetes. But why? This study aimed to find out if it was the sudden weight loss that was the key.
Dr Alan Barclay, head of research at the Australian Diabetes Council, explains. “This substantial amount of weight loss leads to a decrease in what’s known as insulin resistance. Insulin is like the key to the door of our body’s cells. It allows glucose – or blood sugar – into the cells, and fats out of the cells, so they can be used as energy. With insulin resistance, it’s a bit like having a door with a faulty lock. You have to try lots of keys to open the door, so it’s hard for the glucose to get into the cells and the fats to get out. We put on weight and get high BGLs – the typical symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Losing a substantial amount of weight helps the locks on the doors work properly again – and sugars can go in and fats out so they can be used for energy, blood glucose levels return to normal and we lose body fat stores.”Is it the cure for me?
What the study shows is that if you go on a very low-calorie diet, your symptoms of type 2 diabetes will go into remission if you are obese. And, not everyone with type 2 diabetes is obese, of course, cautions Dr Barclay. “Most of the stories neglected to mention that three months later, the weight came back. There was an average of 3.7 kilos (7lb) weight gain and three of the 11 participants had a recurrence of diabetes,” he says. “It’s important to point out that this [diet] does not cure type 2 diabetes as such. If the person regains the weight, the symptoms will come back again.
“People with type 2 diabetes who are overweight and would like to try this approach should speak to their diabetes doctor and dietitian first.”Will this change the future?
Definitely. It’s a dramatic new insight into the way that insulin works and how to ‘unlock’ it. Professor Roy Taylor, who led the diet study, says, “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 seen these insulin-producing cells come completely back to normal, and that is truly remarkable.”Of course, for those who went through the gruelling eight-week diet, the life-long challenge now is not to revert to their old dietary habits. And that’s the rub – few of us are capable of overhauling a life-long health pattern so rigidly. But it’s not the end of the story. For now, it’s back to the lab, where researchers will try to devise a medication that causes the same stunning effect, without the need for a radical eight-week fast.