Crash diet can reverse Type 2 diabetes by rebooting insulin producing cells, study finds

  • The new findings come from a study of 298 people led by the universities of Newcastle and Glasgow
  • They found 46% on a crash diet reversed their diabetes replacing food with shakes and soups
  • Those shakes and soups totaled no more than 800 calories a day 

A crash diet has been shown to reverse type 2 diabetes by ‘rebooting’ cells in the pancreas, offering hope to millions of people.

Just four months on a radical diet allowed some people with diabetes to come off their medication and bring their blood sugar back down to a normal level.

Now researchers know these people can reprogramme the ‘beta cells’ in the pancreas which produce insulin. The cells, which start to malfunction when surrounded by fat, are sometimes able to recover when people lose a substantial amount of weight.

The new findings come from a study of 298 people led by the universities of Newcastle and Glasgow, which found 46 per cent of those on a crash diet reversed their diabetes through replacing food with shakes and soups totalling no more than 800 calories a day.

The crash diet experiment saw people on the 16-week diet lose 15 per cent of their weight on average

Scientists wanted to know why the regime worked for some and not others, so measured liver and pancreatic fat, along with other metabolic tests.

The difference they found was that people who reversed their diabetes could ‘reboot’ their beta cells, however a minority left with diabetes appeared to have cells which had passed the point of no return.

Professor Roy Taylor, lead author of the study from Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine, said: ‘These results provide a dramatic window into the body, allowing us to see exactly what is happening as people change from having Type 2 diabetes to being healthy.’

He added: ‘The knowledge of reversibility of type 2 diabetes, ultimately due to redifferentiation of pancreatic beta cells, will lead to further targeted work to improve understanding of this process.’

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The crash diet experiment, reported last December, saw people on the 16-week diet lose 15 per cent of their weight on average.

But researchers wanted to establish why some people were able to reverse their type 2 diabetes, typically seen as a lifelong condition, while others losing a similar amount of weight could not.

Tests were carried out on 29 ‘responders’ in remission from diabetes and 16 ‘non-responders’ who still had the condition despite their weight loss.

The results, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, found the first group saw their beta cells begin to work properly again, releasing the right amount of the insulin hormone needed to regulate blood sugar.

But there was no change in the amount of insulin produced by people for whom the diet did not work, suggesting their beta cells had not survived the stress of being surrounded by fat.

Responders had also lived with Type 2 diabetes for slightly less time, compared to non-responders, which was 2.7 years on average compared to 3.8 years.

The findings back up the theory that a key part of overcoming diabetes comes from reducing internal fat in the pancreas, where the beta cells are found. But researchers don’t yet know why beta cells are more likely to recover in some people than others, or how to identify those most likely to go into remission.

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, which funded the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT), said: ‘DiRECT has already provided evidence to suggest that some people can put their Type 2 diabetes into remission, but we didn’t yet know why.

‘This latest study builds on these promising findings and helps us understand how weight loss can help some people to kick-start their insulin production again.’ More than four million people in Britain have Type 2 diabetes, costing the NHS £14billion a year. 

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