Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects 422 million people worldwide. For decades, doctors have treated it with medications designed to keep blood sugar levels down.
But in a paper published in the Lancet, researchers in the UK describe a landmark study in which people with diabetes went into remission — just by losing weight.
Nearly half of people in the study who were given a six-month diet plan and lost an average of 30 pounds went into remission and no longer had diabetes. None took any medications during that time to control their disease and relied on weight loss alone.
In the study, Dr. Roy Taylor, professor of medicine and metabolism at Newcastle University, and his colleagues randomly assigned nearly 300 people to either a weight management program or their usual treatments, including diabetes medications. All of the people had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the six years preceding the study. The people assigned to the diet group stopped any diabetes drugs they were taking on the same day they began the diet.
The diet, which was designed to help people lose up to 30 pounds, involved three to five months of a strict low-calorie liquid formula diet averaging no more than 850 calories a day, followed by two to eight weeks of reintroducing food, along with nutritional education and cognitive behavioral therapy to help people stick with the new eating plan.
Taylor and his team tracked outcomes including weight loss, diabetes remission and level of fat in the pancreas and liver. After a year, most of the people in the diet group lost about 22 pounds, compared to two pounds in the control group. Nearly a quarter of the people who managed their weight were able to lose 33 pounds or more, while none in the control group were able to lose that much. Most importantly, 46% of the people in the diet group went into remission with their diabetes, compared to just 4% in the control group.
Taylor says he intends to follow up on the people in the study for another four years to see if they are able to maintain their weight, and, if they are, whether they continue to remain in remission. “From the very clear data we produced in this trial, yes, this is a watershed moment for diabetes,” he says. “We can offer people hope from the start.”