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26th July 2022

Reversing type 2 diabetes, is it actually possible?

Type 2 diabetes can be reversed. The complications of this disease are not to be taken lightly, but do not need to be inevitable. A strict low calorie diet for 12 weeks resulting in 10-15kg weight loss has been shown to reverse type 2 diabetes. 

Why is diabetes becoming more common? 

The world we live in has changed significantly over the past 40 years. We are more likely to work in a job that involves very little activity, and to be more sedentary in general. Food is also more readily available than ever, with our favourite foods being a mere click of a button away from us. 

This has led to soaring rates of obesity, from 7% in 1980 to 30% of the UK population obese in 2022. Obesity can lead to metabolic syndrome. When our bodies run out of space to store fat under the skin, it will store it in and around internal organs. This can then lead to high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and diabetes, also known as metabolic syndrome.  

However, not everyone has gained weight or developed diabetes as a result of this new unhealthy environment. This is due in part to differences in our genetics. 60% of the UK population have no genes for metabolic syndrome. 40% do have these genes, but diet can help both prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes. 

Why is diabetes harmful?

Complications of type 2 diabetes means those living with this illness have a reduced life expectancy of 50% at 10 years. The DIRECT trial in 2016 looked at the impact of very low calorie diets on diabetes. This showed people who embarked on the diet and successfully lost 15kg body weight improved their life expectancy back to normal. 

Who can reverse the disease? 

Diabetes reversal using a strict very low calorie diet has been shown to work in those with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis within the past 6 years. Sustained calorie restriction for 12 weeks leads to fat losses from liver and pancreas so that they are able to function normally again.

Target weight loss to obtain diabetes reversal is 15kg for Europeans, and 10kg for those with an Asian background.  

How to reverse type 2 diabetes?

Bariatric surgery has been shown to result in diabetes reversal for 83% of patients due to the significant weight loss this enables. However we now know there is a non-surgical alternative. 

Within the DIRECT trial successful diabetes remission was obtained by 12 weeks of shakes as a total diet replacement. This was followed by a stepped food reintroduction. Other research has replicated diabetes remission using real food, but all studies involve following a Very Low Calorie Diet of around 800kcal daily. 

Where to find support? 

A very low calorie diet is a huge undertaking. Nutritional intake needs to be carefully balanced to ensure all essential nutrient needs are met. This includes vitamins and minerals, but also protein to minimise muscle loss, and additional fibre supplements are required to keep your gut healthy too. 

To find out more about how a dietitian can support you with diabetes reversal contact our Spire South East dietitians.

- Helen Phadnis

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