Losing weight and rebooting insulin producing cells is key for battling type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on August 8, 2018

New research described as having the potential to put type 2 diabetes into remission has found that losing weight and rebooting insulin producing cells hold the key to combating the disease.

The latest study, led by Professor Roy Taylor at Newcastle University, provides a dramatic window into the body, allowing scientists to see exactly what is happening as people with type 2 diabetes aim to become healthier.

Weight Loss

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It looked at how weight loss can put type 2 diabetes into remissions and the results suggest that for remission to be possible, insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas need to recover and make the right amount of insulin again. However, the researchers pointed out that while it might work for some people, it may not work for everyone.

The study measured levels of fat in the liver and pancreas, alongside other metabolic tests, in a subset of people taking part in the Diabetes Remission Clinical (DiRECT). Researchers looked for differences between 29 responders, that is people in remission, and 16 non-responders over 12 months.

They found that the greatest difference between two groups lay within their insulin producing beta cells. After losing weight, the beta cells of people in remission started to work properly again, releasing the right amount of insulin the body needs. Their insulin production continued to improve over the course of the study.

However, there was no change in the amount of insulin being made by non-responders and their beta cells had not survived the stress of being surrounded by too much fat. The research report says that it adds evidence to the theory that shedding liver and pancreas fat is a vital component of putting type 2 diabetes into remission.

Previous Diabetes UK supported research has shown that beta cells in type 2 diabetes temporarily lose their ability to function normally but can recover if stress from high levels of internal fat is removed.

Crucially, results from this latest study suggest that remission is then only possible if beta cells have the capacity to be ‘rebooted’. 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.

DiRECT involves 298 people and is jointly led by professor Taylor and professor Mike Lean, of the University of Glasgow. The study aims to test if a new weight management approach can put type 2 diabetes into remission for the long term.

The programme involves a low-calorie diet, reintroduction of healthy food, and long term support to maintain weight loss. Initial findings in December 2017 revealed that almost half the participants, some 46%, receiving the programme were in remission after 12 months and not taking medication for diabetes.

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of Research at Diabetes UK, said that DiRECT has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people. ‘We’re looking forward to the second year results as the trial continues. But we’re still waiting for all of the evidence, so it’s very important that anyone with type 2 diabetes considering a low calorie diet speaks to their diabetes healthcare professional first,’ she added.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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