A crash diet lasting just three months can reverse Type 2 diabetes, a landmark study has shown.
Nearly half the people who underwent the diet saw their condition go into remission – providing the strongest evidence yet that diabetes can be eradicated by simply losing weight.
The patients had struggled with their condition for up to six years, using drugs to control their blood sugar levels.
But a year after starting the 850-calorie-a-day diet, 75 per cent were drug free and 46 per cent had seen their blood sugar drop so far they were no longer considered diabetic.
Among those who lost the most weight the results were even more extraordinary, the Lancet publication shows.
A crash diet of 850 calories a day lasting just three months can reverse Type 2 diabetes, a landmark study has shown
Some 86 per cent of people who lost more than 15kg (2st 5lb) went into remission, along with 57 per cent of those who lost 10kg (1st 8lb) to 15kg, and 34 per cent of those who lost 5kg (11lb) to 10kg.
The British project – led by the universities of Newcastle and Glasgow – could fundamentally change the way the NHS deals with the UK’s booming diabetes epidemic.
More than four million people in Britain have Type 2 diabetes, costing the NHS £14 billion a year.
The disease – driven by obesity -was thought to be incurable once developed, and patients are usually just given drugs to control their blood sugar.
Study leader Professor Roy Taylor, of Newcastle University, said: ‘These findings are very exciting.
‘The weightloss goals provided by this programme are achievable for many people.’
The British project – led by the universities of Newcastle and Glasgow – could fundamentally change the way the NHS deals with the UK’s booming diabetes epidemic. More than four million people in Britain have Type 2 diabetes, costing the NHS £14 billion a year
The team believes Type 2 diabetes is caused when accumulated fat in the pancreas and liver interferes with insulin production, which in turn sees blood sugar levels spiking.
Professor Taylor said: ‘Substantial weight loss results in reduced fat inside the liver and pancreas, allowing the organs to return to normal function.’
The study, presented at the International Diabetes Federation congress in Abu Dhabi yesterday, tracked 298 patients.
Half were given weight-loss advice and left to manage their condition.
The other half were taken off drugs and put on a strict diet of no more than 853 calories a day for three months, eating only diet shakes or soups.
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: ‘These findings demonstrate the potential to transform the lives of millions of people.
‘But it’s important that anyone with Type 2 diabetes considering losing weight in this way seeks advice from a health professional.’
Isobel and Tony – living proof you can STOP killer disease
Medicine made me soar to a size 20
Isobel Murray, 65, a retired civil servant, lives near Glasgow, with her husband, Jim, 62.
She says: ‘I was exercising regularly, wearing a dress size 14-16 and feeling fit and well when I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2011.
‘I tried unsuccessfully to bring my blood sugar levels down using the low sugar diet I was prescribed, but it didn’t work and I was put on medication.
‘That didn’t work either. In fact, my blood sugars went up and I was heading for a size 20, which meant taking even more medication.
‘So, in 2013, I jumped at the opportunity of going on the trial, even though all I would be ‘eating’ for four months was meal replacement milkshakes – four a day, 200 calories each, in a variety of flavours including chocolate and strawberry.
Isobel Murray, 65, a retired civil servant, who lives near Glasgow, is pictured before and after going on the diabetes-reversing diet
‘I started in October 2014 when I weighed around 15st. It was really hard.
‘To start with I exercised, drank my drinks and went to bed. But it helped that the weight was falling off and I felt fitter than ever.
‘After 17 weeks, I was down to 12st 4lb, my blood sugars had gone down and my diabetes was in remission. I started on solid food again – the first thing I ate was cream crackers as I was desperate for something with crunch!
‘For the next two years, I restricted my daily calories to 1,000-1,200, but for the past two years I’ve eaten normally.
‘I can tell from my clothes if I’ve put on weight, and reduce my food intake.
‘I just want to make sure the weight doesn’t go back on – I never want to take diabetic medication ever again, and hopefully I’ve found a way I won’t have to.’
It felt like a a dark veil had been lifted
Tony Mason, 52, is a production supervisor in Hexham, Northumberland, where he lives with his wife, Carol, 47.
He says: ‘Not long before I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, in 2009, my father had died from complications related to the disease, so naturally I was worried.
‘With hindsight my diet was terrible. I’d given up smoking but replaced cigarettes with sweets and, as I worked shifts, I’d grab whatever was convenient – pizzas, kebabs, pasties and pies. I’m 5ft 8in and weighed over 15st.
‘I was put on drugs to manage the diabetes, cut out sugar where possible and exercised more, and when I started the study in October 2013, I weighed 14st 7lb.
Tony Mason, 52, is a production supervisor in Hexham, Northumberland. He is pictured before and after going on the diet
‘The first few days were hard – I had hunger pains and a headache – but by day three I felt active. By week two, I was decorating the house and doing odd jobs. It felt like a dark veil had lifted.
‘After 12 weeks, my liver went from 25 per cent fat to 1 per cent (5 per cent is normal), my weight was under 11st and my diabetes was in remission. I didn’t think it would ever happen.
‘My tastes have now changed entirely. I like peppers and celery, but not the taste of fatty foods or beef and lamb.
‘I usually have porridge for breakfast, cheese salad for lunch and chicken salad for dinner.
‘Two years on, I’m a healthy 11st 9lb – I don’t take any medication, feel great and enjoy life.’
It’s one of the most exciting breakthroughs of my lifetime
By Dr Michael Mosley
For many years I have been reporting medical breakthroughs. But this study by a group of British doctors, which proves it is possible to prevent and reverse a widespread, devastating disease, is one of the most exciting I have come across.
Diet, not medication, really could revolutionise the treatment of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, improve the lives of the millions who have it and save the NHS billions.
Since 1996, the number of people living with diabetes has more than doubled. My interest in it began five years ago when I discovered, after a routine blood test, that I was a Type 2 diabetic.
This was a particularly nasty shock, as my father had died at the relatively early age of 74 from complications of diabetes.
Rather than start on medication, which is what my doctor advised, I wanted to overcome diabetes without drugs.
In the course of my research I came across ‘intermittent fasting’. The theory is that instead of dieting every day you cut your calories a few days a week.
I ended up creating what I called the 5:2 diet, where I cut my food intake to around 600 calories a day, two days a week, and ate as healthily as possible on the other five days.
For many years I have been reporting medical breakthroughs. But this study by a group of British doctors, which proves it is possible to prevent and reverse a widespread, devastating disease, is one of the most exciting I have come across, writes Dr Michael Mosley
Using this approach I rapidly lost 10kg (1st 8lb) and returned my blood sugars to normal.
I later wrote a book with journalist Mimi Spencer, The Fast Diet, all about the benefits of intermittent fasting.
But why did losing weight make such a big difference to my blood sugar levels? Soon after writing The Fast Diet, I met diabetes expert Roy Taylor, professor of medicine and metabolism at Newcastle University and the leader of the latest study.
He said the main reason so many people develop blood sugar problems later in life is because we put on too much visceral fat – the fat we get around our tummy.
This not only makes us look chubbier, but clogs up our liver and pancreas.
‘Get rid of that fat,’ he told me, ‘and most people can get their blood sugar levels back to normal without medication.’
This was a remarkable claim because I was taught at medical school that Type 2 diabetes (the type that usually occurs later in life and is linked with lifestyle) is incurable and invariably progressive.
Most of the doctors I spoke to were sceptical that patients would start a weight loss diet, let alone stick to it.
But there is an urgent need to do something other than simply keep dishing out the pills.
These drugs can have significant side-effects and once you start, you often progress to stronger and stronger medicines, until you end up injecting insulin.
There are more than 4.5 million diabetics in the UK, and a further 12 million of us have pre-diabetes, where blood sugar levels are raised but not yet in the diabetic range.
Complications of diabetes include an increased risk of going blind, heart attack, kidney failure or losing a limb.
The claim that losing a lot of weight rapidly can reverse diabetes may sound too good to be true, but it’s based on years of solid research. And Professor Michael Lean, of Glasgow University, who co-led the study, argues that rapid weight loss can be a more successful strategy than trying to lose it gradually.
‘Doing it slowly is torture,’ he says. ‘Contrary to the belief of many dietitians, people who lose weight quickly, more emphatically, are more likely to keep it off long term.
‘What doctors haven’t recognised is how much people with Type 2 diabetes hate having it. In my experience people will jump at the diet given the chance.’
Two years ago, I wrote The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet (Short Books), which includes a detailed programme for reversing pre-diabetes and Type 2, based on Professor Taylor’s work.
Since it was published I have received thousands of letters and emails from people who are back to full health.
People such as Cassie, a nurse, who within weeks of starting was able to come off insulin injections.
In a couple of months, she lost over 20kg and then managed to get pregnant. ‘You have helped make a little miracle possible,’ she wrote, ‘for which I can’t thank you enough.’
As I pointed out, she should really be thanking the scientists and doctors whose research made this breakthrough possible.
The Blood Sugar Diet developed by Michael Mosley advocates 800 calories a day of low-carb, Mediterranean-style food, for up to eight weeks.
Research suggests that while it’s more effort to make your own nutritionally-balanced meals they taste better than instant shakes, and you will also learn how to cook proper, healthy delicious meals.
Always consult your GP before starting a new diet, and never stop taking any medication without the express advice of a medical professional.
The principles of the Blood Sugar Diet are that it is low in starchy, easily digestible carbs, but packed full of disease-fighting vitamins and rich in olive oil, fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables, as well as full-fat yoghurt and eggs.
Studies have found people get multiple benefits from a Mediterranean diet and they are good at sticking to it (unlike a low-fat diet) because they find it enjoyable.
The 800 calories may mean two meals a day, or three smaller ones. Alcohol isn’t banned, but it’s worth avoiding because of its high calorie content.
The idea is to give it two weeks and see how you’re doing. Your appetite should be controlled, your blood sugar levels and weight should slowly drop, you should sleep well, and cope physically and emotionally.
But if you’re not, try a 5:2 approach – cut to 800 calories twice a week and stick to a low-carb, Med-style diet the rest of the time, with a few more calories. It will take longer, but you should still lose weight.
What happens after you’ve got to where you need to be is almost more important than losing the weight initially. You need a plan you’ll stick to – for some people it will continue to include odd low-calorie days, but other people might not feel they need this.
Tips such as eating at a table and slowly, avoiding alcohol and keeping tempting foods out of the house will help.
But Dr Mosley also suggests weighing yourself regularly, wearing a belt so you notice if you put on weight, and keeping physically and mentally fit.