Low calorie diet and GP back up trial puts type 2 diabetes into remission

by Barbara Hewitt on December 6, 2017

Almost half of people with type 2 diabetes who took part in a weight loss programme were able to reverse their diabetes in a year in what experts are calling an approach that could revolutionise the way the condition is treated.

Some 86% of those taking part in the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial, funded by charity Diabetes UK and undertaken by researchers at Newcastle and Glasgow Universities, who lost 15kg or more put their type 2 diabetes into remission.


(Syda Productions/Shutterstock.com)

The study led by Professor Roy Taylor, from Newcastle University, and Professor Mike lean from Glasgow University, found that 45.6% of those who were put on a low calorie diet for three to five months and were able to stop their type 2 diabetes medications.

They explained that part of the success of the programme was that long term support was given by routine General Practice staff to help the 298 people taking part in the trial.

‘These findings are very exciting. They could revolutionise the way type 2 diabetes is treated. The study builds on the work into the underlying cause of the condition, so that we can target management effectively,’ said lead researcher Taylor.

‘Substantial weight loss results in reduced fat inside the liver and pancreas, allowing these organs to return to normal function. What we’re seeing from DiRECT is that losing weight isn’t just linked to better management of type 2 diabetes but that significant weight loss could actually result in lasting remission,’ he added.

In the study half of the participants received standard diabetes care from their GP, whilst the other half received a structured weight management programme within primary care. The programme included a low calorie, nutrient complete diet for three to five months, food reintroduction and long term support to maintain weight loss.

Type 2 diabetes remission was found to be closely related to weight loss. Over half, 57%, of those who lost 10 to 15kg achieved remission, along with 34% of those who lost five to 10kg. Only 4% of the control group achieved remission.

‘Putting type 2 diabetes into remission as early as possible after diagnosis could have extraordinary benefits, both for the individual and the NHS. DiRECT is telling us it could be possible for as many as half of patients to achieve this in routine primary care, and without drugs,’ Lean explained.

‘We’ve found that people were really interested in this approach, almost a third of those who were asked to take part in the study agreed. This is much higher than usual acceptance rates for diabetes clinical trials,’ he pointed out.

One participant was Isobel Murray, 65, from North Ayrshire in Scotland who took part in DiRECT from 2014 to 2016. She was on the low calorie diet programme for 17 weeks and put her type 2 diabetes into remission after the first four months.

Over the two year trial, Isobel lost more than three and a half stone and no longer needs to take any diabetes medication. ‘It has transformed my life, I had type 2 diabetes for two to three years before the study,’ she said.

‘I was on various medications which were constantly increasing and I was becoming more and more ill every day. When the opportunity came to go on the DiRECT study, I had absolutely no hesitation. When the doctors told me that my pancreas was working again, it felt fantastic, absolutely amazing,’ she explained.

‘I don’t think of myself as a diabetic anymore, I get all my diabetes checks done, but I don’t feel like a diabetic. I am one of the lucky ones to have gone into remission,’ she added.

According to Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, the study findings demonstrate the potential to transform the lives of millions of people. ‘We’re very encouraged by these initial results, and the building robust evidence that remission could be achievable for some people,’ she said.

‘The trial is ongoing, so that we can understand the long term effects of an approach like this. Whether putting type 2 diabetes into remission can protect against diabetes related complications later in life is not yet known. More research is also needed to find out who could benefit most from treatments like this in the future, taking into account factors like ethnicity and duration of type 2 diabetes,’ 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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