Losing some weight could reverse diabetes.
This is according to Roy Taylor, a Newcastle University professor and a diabetes researcher who studied the condition for four decades. At a meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Lisbon, Taylor presented an overview of the studies he and his colleagues had conducted since 2009. At the core is a 600-calorie diet regimen, also known as the “Newcastle diet”, that could reverse type 2 diabetes.
Taylor is the main proponent of the “Twin Cycle Hypothesis” which he uses to describe the nature of diabetes. The hypothesis states that:
(a) Excess calories lead to a fatty liver. A fatty liver doesn’t respond to insulin and continues to overproduce glucose.
(b) The fatty liver also causes fatty deposition in other parts of the body, like the pancreas. The insulin-producing cells found in a fatty pancreas enter a state where they stop producing insulin. Without insulin, the body won’t be able to control blood glucose levels.
Both cycles (a) and (b) lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes.
To reverse the risk factors brought by fatty livers and pancreata, and to confirm the hypothesis, Taylor and his team introduced a 600-calorie diet regimen in 2009. Eleven patients took part in an experiment dubbed as the “Counterpoint study”; whose results were published in 2011. Taylor explains that, by reducing calorie intake, the liver starts dropping its fats and regains its sensitivity to insulin. Moreover, the pancreas also starts to lose its fats and resumes its role of insulin secretion. Both changes brought back blood glucose levels into normalcy.
“I think the real importance of this work is for the patients themselves,” commented Taylor. “Many have described to me how embarking on the low-calorie diet has been the only option to prevent what they thought—or had been told—was an inevitable decline into further medication and further ill health because of their diabetes. By studying the underlying mechanisms we have been able to demonstrate the simplicity of type 2 diabetes.”
After it was published, the Counterpoint study piqued the interests of doctors and patients due to the simplicity of the approach. The diet itself was well-liked by the participants as it caused “no hunger and no tiredness” and brought “rapidly increasing well-being”.
However, as the study lasted only for eight weeks, there was uncertainty if diabetes would continue to stay away. To address this lingering question, the “Counterbalance study” was launched and participated by 30 patients; results were published in 2016. Twelve patients showed reversal signs within 6 months of diet; all 12 had diabetes for 10 years or less.
“The good news for people with Type 2 diabetes is that our work shows that even if you have had the condition for 10 years, you are likely to be able to reverse it by moving that all important tiny amount of fat out of the pancreas. At present, this can only be done through substantial weight loss”, said Taylor.
Diabetes (or hyperglycemia) is a condition wherein blood glucose levels in the body are higher than normal levels. To control blood glucose, the body utilizes insulin (a hormone secreted by the pancreas) to convert glucose into energy.
Diabetes is classified into two types: type 1 and type 2. People with type 1 diabetes can’t produce insulin due to their pancreatic cells being destroyed by their own immune system. People with type 2 diabetes (they are larger in numbers) are underproducing insulin or have bodies that are not responding normally to the hormone. When the body behaves this way, it is described to have an “insulin resistance” which is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.
Out of 380 million people worldwide who suffer from type 2 diabetes, 27 million are in the US and 3.8 million are in Britain. If left untreated, the condition can lead to heart failure, blindness, kidney disease and leg amputations. Ways to control blood glucose levels are therefore crucial to reduce complications for patients who are already suffering from type 2 diabetes.