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

Diabetes

6th January 2016

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.

shake

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:

    http://healthinsightuk.org/2014/03/12/why-very-low-calorie-diets-vlcd-wont-solve-the-diabetes-crisis/

    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.

    http://www.webmd.com/diet/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.

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