‘Reversing Diabetes’…..Is It Possible?

Due to the unprecedented focus on diabetes in Ireland at the moment, due to the phenomenal success of Operation Transformation on RTE 1, demand for knowledge and information on diabetes is greater than ever. But we need to be very careful that the right information is getting out there and to the right people. There has been huge interest in a diet that claims to ‘reverse diabetes’ that has been featured on Operation Transformation in the last two weeks. I have received several queries from individuals with diabetes who want to access the diet or find out more about it. Here are my thoughts and findings about it.

What does the Diet Involve? 

The diet arises from a study that was carried out by researchers from the Human Nutrition Research Centre based in Newcastle University in the UK. The purpose of the study was to see whether a diet that was energy restrictive could reverse the resistance of the body’s cells to the action of insulin, therefore preventing progressive decline in the function of beta cells in the pancreas, the gland that is responsible for controlling our blood sugars.

The diet itself involves two nutrient drinks a day, which supplied 510 calories and supplemented by three portions of non starchy vegetables to give a total of 600 calories intake a day over an eight week period. After the eight weeks, those who participated in the study returned to normal eating. Participants were an average age of 49.5 and were obese. They had Type 2 Diabetes for less than 4 years and in the weeks leading up to the trial, their diabetes medication was withdrawn.

Results

The results from the study showed that there was a return in blood sugar levels to normal and that there was a reduction in weight of an average 15% across the participants. There was also evidence of the livers role in controlling blood sugars and sensitivity to insulin. But……and here comes a big but!!!!  Four weeks after the diet was stopped, participants had gained an average of 3.1kg in weight and their fasting blood sugar levels began to increase. What the diet had shown in layman’s terms is that the symptoms of diabetes can be ‘reversed’, but not the actual diabetes itself.

There are a number of issues that I have with the study which needs to be highlighted. Firstly, it was an extremely small study, only conducted on 11 people. Secondly, there was no comparison group, it would have been interesting to see whether or not having a similar group of people on a strict healthy diet regime and exercise plan tailor made to their requirements would have shown similar results. Finally the study was only conducted over 8 weeks, it needs to be over a longer period of time, with a larger group of people in order to be more conclusive in its findings.

Also it would have been interesting to see what has happened with those 11 participants 3, 6 and 12 months after the study. The long term health implications and risks of a diet like this are unknown.

Conclusion

The findings of this study have a significance but have been lost amongst the wild claims by the media such as ‘reversing’ and ‘curing’ diabetes that are way off the mark, causing confusion amongst the general public and a headache for those of us who are trying our best to educate them. All the participants of this study were given intense medical supervision and you have to question whether that level of support also had a bearing on the findings. No person with diabetes should attempt to embark on this diet or one similar on their own. I have seen too many people in my practice attempt these types of diets, especially for weight loss, only to return to the practice, six months or a year later, full of despair because they could not sustain it and the weight came flying back on, sometimes twice as much.

It is interesting watching the gentleman who is following the above diet on Operation Transformation. While he has lost a significant amount of weight, the withdrawal symptoms he has been experiencing are horrendous, headaches, tiredness etc. I wonder when the cameras are packed away, the support is diminished and he returns to normal ‘healthy’ eating how he will cope? I can only hope he will continue to have success with his diabetes into the future, that is our wish for anyone with the condition.

So what is my final piece of advice for anyone reading this?………Healthy eating regime and exercise for diabetes all the way!!!

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