Type-2 diabetes has a secret: it’s perfectly reversible. Here’s how to get rid of it

Carlos Cervantes used to suffer from severe diabetes. His low point was 2011, when he had a heart attack, his kidneys started failing him and he was facing a foot amputation because of a toe-to-ankle ulcer. ‘I had pretty much figured that my time was up,’ he says.

Then he stumbled on a news clip about a study at Newcastle University. In it all 11 subjects had their type-2 diabetes reversed after following a very low-calorie diet — that is, just 600 calories a day for eight weeks. So Cervantes gave the diet a try. His blood sugar dropped to a normal level, his symptoms vanished and he was returned to good health.

The mechanism is simple. Type-2 diabetes is caused by a build-up of fat stopping the pancreas from producing the insulin we need. Restricting calories to a very low level means we can burn off this fat, allowing the pancreas to start working normally again.

Cervantes’s success story is one of many. Professor Roy Taylor, who led the Newcastle trial, says ‘over 100’ people around the world have contacted him to say they have tried the diet and got rid of their own type-2 diabetes.

Now, together, with Professor Mike Lean, he is leading a five-year study to determine whether such a diet might become routine NHS treatment (for type-2 diabetes, but not for type-1, which is caused by a reaction of the immune system, not fat). The results will begin to trickle in next year and be published in 2018.

Official guidelines may change after that. Until then, there’s nothing to stop people trying the diet themselves (though if you are on medication it’s best to check with a doctor first).

Fortunately, you don’t have to drop down to 600 calories a day. Subjects in the latest trial have a daily intake of 800. This seems to make a big difference. The earlier trial was gruelling. The journalist Richard Doughty, a subject on the trial, recalled feeling tired, hungry, and ‘detached from colleagues’. Even though it was July his fingertips went white with cold and he had to wear a coat.

On 800 calories it’s not nearly so horrible. ‘The first 24 or 48 hours are tough,’ says Professor Taylor. But then the body adjusts and ‘you rapidly lose the sensation of hunger’. In fact, he says, most of the subjects so far have carried on with the diet for longer than the 12-week minimum.

But, from the point of view of burning fat, 800 calories works as well as 600 — both are well below the daily requirement of 2,500 (men) or 2,000 (women). On either diet we get most of our energy from our fat rather than the calories we consume.


One problem, according to Taylor, is boredom. The diet involves nothing but nutritional shakes and water for 12 weeks. The shakes, made by Cambridge Weight Plan, don’t come in all that many varieties. (An alternative 700-calorie diet that includes actual food can be found here.)

Another issue is you can always put the weight back on. You might reverse the diabetes only for it to come back later. ‘One of the most difficult things is not getting the weight down, but adapting long-term habits,’ says Taylor.

Type-2 diabetes is still widely seen as a progressive condition that will only ever get worse. One biscuit too many, you think, and you are doomed. The good news is there is a way out and it doesn’t even involve a pill or a doctor — just a diet.

  • JonathanBagley

    This diet was tested against a moderated carbohydrate diet in a Channel 4 TV programme, Extreme Diet Ward, back in August 2013. The results have almost disappeared from history and the only record I can now find is my comment, the 4th below this article:


    The original Fitness4London review is now too old to feature in the link.

    The Newcastle diet did not do at all well compared to the moderated carbohydrate diet, but at the time, nobody batted an eyelid and the Newcastle diet seems to have gone from strength to strength – a legend in its own mind. Meanwhile, cutting down on carbohydrates to help with diabetes is still regarded as a dangerous fad by the mainstream Diabetes Industry.

    • Mark Greaves

      Hi Jonathan, thanks for that. But if it’s just about getting rid of fat from the pancreas, isn’t it irrelevant whether your diet is low-carb? For getting rid of diabetes completely the exact nature of the diet wouldn’t matter. It would just be about calorie consumption. Interesting about the Channel 4 test though.

      • Carbs convert to glucose and excess unused glucose gets converted into fat if I am not mistaken.

        Ironically good quality dietary fat does not make you fat. For years people thought that if you ate fat you got fat, but that was completely incorrect.

        • Callipygian

          Hi Graham. Good comment.

          All food converts to glucose eventually (I understand) but carbs create a more severe and immediate insulin response in the body, and refined carbs in particular can be eaten in large quantities with ease (compare a slice of fruit pie with a piece of fruit), and this also causes an insulin surge as well as caloric overload.

          One can get fat eating almost anything, and that includes fat. However, fats are necessary for good health, and fats do not trigger that dangerous insulin reaction in the same way (though all food triggers the release of insulin). Fat is food, so naturally if you eat fat food with carb food you get a double whammy. This is why having fats without carbs is probably better for people that want to lose fat; on the other hand, fat eaten along with carbs may moderate the body’s response (a piece of cheese with slices of apple, for example). Carbs on the other hand are not the enemy, especially if one is in physical training and needs the energy that carbs provide. It’s complicated!

          • Tarek

            A pleasure to read facts for a change. Look up the new Volek paper on using fat instead of carbs for serious athletes. A game changer of sorts

    • steveT

      The reason cutting down carbs to “control” diabetes is not yet encouraged stems from the fact that certain fats are shown to be promoting of type2 diabetes. Also controlling diabetes has never been shown (yet) to reduce the complications of this disease as it is , in effect, just treating the symptoms of high glucose not the underlying cause (more bodyfat than the individual can handle). All populations on a high carb low fat diet (eg asian countries before 1980) show no type2 diabetes. All countries that increase fat show large amounts of type2 diabetes. Coincidence?

  • Summer Isles

    Insulin metabolism is poorly understood and talk of ‘cures’ based on reducing the amount of intra-abdominal fat is a journalistic oversimplification.

    However, sustained weight loss is certainly the key to managing Type 2 diabetes and can greatly improve the outlook.

    800 calorie diets are not risk free and may, in some cases, be harmful.

    The attached link to a reputable medical website gives advice on when and how to approach low calorie diets.


  • Pantherboy

    The headline and author states that Type 2 diabetes “perfectly reversible”. I have seen a lot of research in this and can assure you it is far from certain and much more medically complicated than you think.

    Your evidence so far has been the controlled study in Newcastle, which was far too small to be generalizing to larger populations. The reason people get diabetes and how they react to treatment is not as homogeneous as you seem to be leading on. Carlos ‘the sample size of one’ and the other 100s you mention is anecdotal.

    At best you can say that there are indications that type 2 diabetes may be reversible. More studies with larger sample size and data is needed.

    Accuracy is important in medical reporting, and advocating people with medical issues try extremely restricted diets without advice from a doctor is dangerous.

    • Rob

      You’re a classic scared of truth – Type 2 INDUSTRY – person!

      There’s actually ZERO evidence, that T2D even “exists”, as this “simplistic one size fits all, therefore “uncurable” condition”. People, including medical communities, who frankly should know better – lumped the word “diabetes” in there and so BANG – hit the Big Red Button Each and Every time! Headaches can signify, perhaps a passing thing, or a deadly underlying condition and EVERYone gets them. So, does that make EVERYone a “headachic” for the rest of their life – of course not!

      High glucose levels are BAD news for peoples health – luckily, if people [patient and Dr’s] step into the real world, face reality and shed weight, get a more balanced diet going and regular exercise, the growing body of evidence from this and OTHER studies, is, in the vast majority of cases, glucose levels will return to normal.

      No “panic”, no huge industry req’d, no endless trips to the Dr, burdening health systems beyond breaking point and frankly, an army of self-appointed “experts”, needing to go earn an honest dollar doing something productive!

  • I have type 2 diabetes. I take my daily pills and, in general, check my blood sugar every third day. I’m normally very steady. However, I cheat sometimes and overdo things, like fruit, cakes and meat. When I feel I have done this, I check and usually it means that the reading is around 10, instead of between 4 and 8. I get into my car, drive to a large car park and do about 45 minutes brisk (not too!) walking, around the perimeter. After returning home, I wait about thirty minutes and get a reading, which usually is about 6. This just proves, in a simple fashion, the link between controlling type 2 diabetes with simple exercise and common sense. I gave up alcohol a few years ago, so that helps a great deal. I also get my feet looked after, by a podiatrist. There is nothing too scientific about this and it’s not wizardry.

  • I forgot to mention that, if the weather is wet, I spend the 45 minutes on my exercise bike indoors, boring but effective.

  • Miky

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  • Vicki Nunn

    Very few people are going to be able to stick to such a rigid and restrictive diet. Most people who try such drastic diets can manage it for only the short-term and go back to their old way of eating and often stack on more weight.

    Around 27/28 months ago, my diabetes was completely out of control following the low GI diet recommended by the Australian Diabetes Association. I was on 1000 Metformin and around 95ml of insulin before every meal and would have crazy highs and lows. I’ve never been a fad dieter and on the low GI diet had slowly stacked on more and more weight.

    After much research, I decided to give LCHF (low carb high fat) way of eating a try – endeavouring to stick to around 20 carbs a day, which wasn’t difficult at all (I was surprised!) Four months later I had my diabetes under control for the first time in around five years.

    Over 26 months I was able to reduce my insulin more and more. About 8 months ago I dropped the metformin altogether because it was making very little if any difference. Then four months ago, I had reduced my insulin down to just 5ml before my meal and then two months ago I was finally able to stop using insulin altogether! No diabetic medication AT ALL! My blood sugar levels have been consistently fantastic since then,

    When I began LCHF I didn’t consider that I might be able to drop all diabetic medication. My main purpose was to control my diabetes, but 28 months later – the diabetes is controlled and I use NO diabetic medication. I’m frankly amazed!

    I’m under no illusion that I’m cured as diabetes is pretty strong in both sides of my family, but this way of eating (LCHF) is really easy and I’m not hungry all the time like I was on the low GI diet. I believe LCHF is a life-saver.

    Oh and the bonus has been a gradual weight-loss of 22kg.

    • alex celim

      Hi Vicki
      Is it possible to get some advice and guidance from you?

      • Vicki Nunn

        Hi Alex

        I’m not a medical doctor or dietitian so cannot legally provide you with medical advice, but I can encourage you to find information on the internet. There’s lots of stuff out there about LCHF.

        In basic terms, the way that most of us have been brought up eating provides us lots of carbs from which we get our energy. Our bodies though are able to obtain energy from a different source: fats (natural fats). So, LCHF uses high (natural) fats from which our bodies obtain energy, rather than carbs.

        There are certain foods that are higher in carbs than others, eg wheat and grains, rice and many fruits as well as sugar are high in carbs.

        I would encourage you to find some good lists of LCHF foods on the internet as close to natural as possible. I cook as close to natural as I can, ie omitting unnatural sweeteners when possible and avoiding unnatural preservatives etc. For my sweetener, I use 100% stevia – it’s so concentrated that 1/64th of a teaspoon equals two teaspoons of sugar. (Avoid the stevia with additives such a Natvia.)

        If you want to go the way of LCHF, read up lots and lots before you begin so you know what to expect. If you are doing this as a way of controlling your diabetes, endeavour to stick to 20 carbs or less a day.

        If you have a sweet tooth, then have an LCHF home-made dessert with your evening meal. You don’t have to go hungry to see results. It’s not about starving yourself, instead you should be feeding your body the right energy sources. If you try and starve yourself, this way of eating won’t work as it needs the high fat energy sources to sustain your energy reserves.

        There are literally thousands of LCHF recipes out there, though many aren’t great. I’ve found that the more complicated they are, the higher the risk they won’t turn out well, which is probably linked to the fact that I’m not a good cook 🙂 Stick with simpler recipes if you can unless you’re a good cook and want to try more out.

        There are substitutes out there, eg instead of pasta (from wheat) you can use konjack noodles. Konjack is a vegetable and it’s low carb.

        I would also encourage you to find a couple of LCHF groups for their support and guidance. I was involved with 2 groups on Facebook which really helped me.

        All the best Alex. Just remember that LCHF is NOT a diet. It really shouldn’t be something that you begin for short-term weight-loss because as soon as you go back to your old way of eating, you’re weight will pile back on. LCHF is a lifestyle change. I LOVE how easy it’s been, but it took me several months to change my mindset and my understanding of how and why this works, and adjusting my cooking to LCHF after years of cooking high carb foods/recipes.

    • Yogesh Dwarkasingh

      Hi Vicki is it possible to share your lifestyle with me as i want to achieve the same results as yours. Here’s my email yoshdwark@gmail.com. Thx.