A Malaysian endocrinologist attached to Newcastle University in the United Kingdom was part of a clinical research team which discovered that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed by an extreme low calorie diet alone.
Dr Lim Ee Lin, who conducted the study as part of her postgraduate doctoral degree, explained that this finding will change the way doctors help patients to manage the disease.
“While it has long been believed that someone with Type 2 diabetes will always have the disease and that it will steadily get worse, we have shown that we can now reverse the condition,” she said.
Dr Lim, who graduated from Newcastle University Medical School in 2000 and completed her specialty training in Endocrinology and Diabetes earlier this year, carried out the study as part of her postgraduate doctoral degree and is working with the team led by Prof Roy Taylor.
In an early stage of the clinical trial, 11 adults were put on an extreme diet of just 600 calories a day consisting of liquid diet drinks and non-starchy vegetables.
They were matched to a control group of people without diabetes and then monitored over eight weeks, while the insulin production from their pancreas and fat content in the liver and pancreas were studied.
After just one week, the team found that their pre-breakfast blood sugar levels had returned to normal while a special MRI scan of their pancreas revealed that the fat levels in the pancreas had returned from an elevated level to normal (from around 8% to 6%), allowing it to regain the normal ability to make insulin which reduced blood sugar after meals.
“To have people free of diabetes after years with the condition is remarkable — and all because of an eight-week diet, which also regains the body’s ability to make insulin,” said Dr Lim.
The volunteers then returned to three months of eating normally but received advice on portion size and healthy eating. When re-tested, seven remained free of diabetes.
“We believe this shows that Type 2 diabetes is all about energy balance in the body.
“If you are eating more than you burn, then the excess is stored in the liver and pancreas as fat which can lead to Type 2 diabetes in some people. What we need to examine further is why some people are more susceptible to developing diabetes than others,” explained Dr Lim.
It is estimated that there is currently 1.4 million Malaysians, or one in six adults above the age of 30, who have diabetes. Of those, 98% have Type 2 diabetes, which is a long-term condition caused by too much glucose in the blood.
“This is a radical change in understanding Type 2 diabetes. It will change how we can explain it to people newly diagnosed with the condition,” she said.
Traditionally, it had been thought that as a progressive condition, Type 2 diabetes can be controlled by diet initially then tablets, but would eventually require insulin injections; and the findings now provide a new perspective to treating it.