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Exaggeration found in PR release claim that anyone can “reverse” their Type 2 diabetes

  • People who have had Type 2 diabetes for up to 10 years can reverse their condition
  • Keeping weight down means Type 2 diabetes stays reversed

A new study from Newcastle University has shown that people who reverse their diabetes and then keep their weight down remain free of diabetes.

In addition, the team found that even patients who have had Type 2 diabetes for up to 10 years can reverse their condition.

The study, published today in Diabetes Care, is the latest research from world-renowned Professor Roy Taylor, Professor of Medicine and Metabolism at Newcastle University, who also works within Newcastle Hospitals.

The research is part of a growing body of evidence showing that people with Type 2 diabetes who successfully lose weight can reverse their condition because fat is removed from their pancreas, returning insulin production to normal.

Reversing diabetes

A previous study led by Professor Taylor, published in 2011, showed that diabetes could be reversed by a very low calorie diet. This caused international interest, but the study was very short as it was only eight weeks and the question remained whether the diabetes would stay away.

In this new study, 30 volunteers with Type 2 diabetes embarked on the same diet of 600 to 700 calories a day. Participants lost on average 14 kilograms – just over 2 stone. Over the next 6 months they did not regain any weight.

The group included many people with longer duration diabetes, defined as more than 8 years and ranging up to 23 years.

Overall, 12 patients who had had diabetes for less than 10 years reversed their condition. 6 months later they remained diabetes free. In fact, after 6 months a thirteenth patient had reversed their diabetes.

Though the volunteers lost weight they remained overweight or obese but they had lost enough weight to remove the fat out of the pancreas and allow normal insulin production.

Professor Roy Taylor said: “What we have shown is that it is possible to reverse your diabetes, even if you have had the condition for a long time, up to around 10 years. If you have had the diagnosis for longer than that, then don’t give up hope – major improvement in blood sugar control is possible.

“The study also answered the question that people often ask me – if I lose the weight and keep the weight off, will I stay free of diabetes? The simple answer is yes!

“Interestingly, even though all our volunteers remained obese or overweight, the fat did not drift back to clog up the pancreas.

“This supports our theory of a Personal Fat Threshold. If a person gains more weight than they personally can tolerate, then diabetes is triggered, but if they then lose that amount of weight then they go back to normal.

“Individuals vary in how much weight they can carry without it seeming to affect their metabolism – don’t forget that 70% of severely obese people do not have diabetes.

“The bottom line is that if a person really wants to get rid of their Type 2 diabetes, they can lose weight, keep it off and return to normal.

“This is good news for people who are very motivated to get rid of their diabetes. But it is too early to regard this as suitable for everyone. That is a separate question and a major study is underway to answer this.”

The study

Participants in this study had Type 2 diabetes for between six months and 23 years. The team showed that Type 2 diabetes could be reversed even in people who had the condition for 10 years.

The team were able to identify in advance participants who would not respond to adequate weight loss by reversing their diabetes as at the start they had almost absent insulin production from the pancreas.

The study was funded by a National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR BRC) grant.

A larger trial involving 280 patients is already underway. This will examine how successfully people can reverse their diabetes through weight loss simply under the care of their family doctor and nurse. It is being funded by Diabetes UK.

The research was possible through Newcastle Academic Health Partners, a collaboration involving Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University. This partnership harnesses world-class expertise to ensure patients benefit sooner from new treatments, diagnostics and prevention strategies.

The diet

  • 3 diet shakes per day and 240 grams of non-starchy vegetables taking in between 600 and 700kcal a day for 8 weeks
  • volunteers then gradually returned to eating normal food over the next two weeks with very careful instruction on how much to eat
  • volunteers were seen once a month and supported with an individualized weight maintenance programme over the next 6 months
  • to keep weight steady after the weight loss, they were eating around one third less than before the study

CASE STUDY:

Allan Tutty, 57, from Sunderland, transformed his health by taking part in the study.

He said: “I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes around May 2011 during routine checks by my GP but my family and I were in disbelief because I had no physical symptoms which led me to consider I had the condition.

“While I didn’t feel fat, I was fat – on the inside. I’ve since seen a scan of my liver and you can see the fat around it.

“I took part in the research spending eight weeks on an 800-calorie a day diet which was really tough over Christmas and New Year but I was determined to complete it. The pay-off for me – the possible reversal of my diabetes – was more than worth the effort.

“In the two months, I lost two and a half stones and my pancreas was working within normal limits. With my diabetes in remission, I haven’t looked back.

“I eat normal foods though I eat less than I used to, and I enjoy takeaways and chocolate but not on a regular basis so I have maintained my lower weight, it has been a total lifestyle change. In fact, my life has changed completely thanks to this research.”

###

REFERENCE: Very low calorie diet and 6 months of weight stability in Type 2 diabetes: Pathophysiologic changes in responders and non-responders. Sarah Steven, Keiren G Hollingsworth, Ahmad Al-Mrabeh, Leah Avery, Benjamin Aribisala, Muriel Caslake, Roy Taylor.

Diabetes Care. Doi: 10.2337/dc15-9422

Links:

Previous study: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/news/2015/10/type2diabetes/

Very low calorie diet – the diet: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/magres/research/diabetes/reversal.htm

NIHR: http://www.nihr.ac.uk/

Reverse your diabetes -- and you can stay diabetes-free long-term

Our Review Summary

Type 2 diabetesThis release from Newcastle University describes a very small study that sought to control type 2 diabetes in patients through a reduced-calorie diet and a weight-management program. The results showed that 12 of the 30 participants saw a resumption of normal insulin production that continued for six months, supporting the release’s claim of “reversing” the disease. But what about the other 18 patients? A study this small can hardly suggest its finding are applicable to all type 2 diabetes patients which, in effect, it does. And benefits observed after only 6 months may not be maintained over the longer term. The release also omitted discussion of harms and alternatives, and didn’t give us a good picture of how the study was conducted.

 

Why This Matters

Rates of Type 2 diabetes have increased markedly in parallel with rates of obesity, especially in developed countries. It has long been recognized that diet, weight loss and exercise can improve the control of diabetes. Large studies investigating the impact of weight loss surgery have demonstrated that blood sugar results can return to normal after significant weight loss. It has also been shown that individuals who regain weight after surgery can then have blood sugars go up again and need to resume medications for diabetes.

Patients and their families may excitedly assume that the approach described in this release is right for them and alter their normal regimen in the treatment of their disease. But adhering to the diet discussed in this release will be very difficult for most people and is not without risks. And despite the release’s suggestion of universal benefit, a “reversal” of diabetes did not occur in the majority of patients. Patients should understand that context when weighing whether to embark on such a diet.

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The release makes no mention of cost and while the diet changes, including diet shakes and vegetables, may not exceed the cost of a regular diet, the individualized weight management program for a half-year could represent additional costs for people not in the study, something of which readers should be reminded.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The headline on this release, along with the lede, states that diabetes can be reversed while the data provided only suggest that 12 of the 30 participants experienced a return of normal insulin production levels following adoption of a very low calorie diet. Given that this was such a small study, we fault the release for suggesting the results can be extrapolated to the universe of Type 2 diabetes patients. In cases like this, where the number of patients with diabetes is so large, semantics are important. At best, the release suggests that in this small study, only 40 percent of the participants experienced a remission in their disease for a period 6 months — which is not very long considering that most patients who lose weight will eventually regain it over the course of several years. Suggesting that the disease can be “reversed,” without qualifying that the result applies to a limited number of patients, is an exaggeration and far too great a conclusion for this study.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There is no mention of any harms that might arise from this approach. There are risks that come with very low calorie dieting — which was done for 8 weeks according to the release. Potential harms of extreme dieting should have been mentioned including whether there were any health issues in the 30 patients over the six months study period.

The most common side effect of very low calorie dieting is gallstones, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Minor, short-lasting side effects include fatigue, constipation, nausea and diarrhea. The Institute recommends that patients following a very low calorie diet that results in rapid weight loss should be monitored by a doctor.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The study the release is based on is indeed intriguing and certainly supports the idea of a better, larger research effort to test whether its findings are confirmed. But the verbiage used to describe the study’s outcome far exceeds what should be garnered from this research.

The release doesn’t paint a full picture of what happened in the study. For example, there is no explanation about the 18 patients in the study whose insulin production did not return to normal, something a thoughtful reader of the release might quickly wonder about. Throughout the release there is mention that the weight loss worked by removing fat from the pancreas, leading to improved release of insulin. One of our reviewers on this release, a clinician and associate professor at Harvard Medical school, thought that this should have been recognized as a hypothesis that is not well supported by a large body of literature. It is not that the pancreas is not producing insulin in Type 2 diabetes, rather it is not producing enough and the insulin being produced is being blocked, especially by the fat cells throughout the body. Losing weight decreases the amount of fat and improves insulin resistance — leading to improved sugars. The hypothesis proposed in this release also is inconsistent with a growing body of genetic studies pointing to the underlying mechanisms that are associated with the development of Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is currently believed to be associated with a number of different genetic mechanisms, implying that the one mechanism implied in this release, even if true, may apply to only a fraction of patients with Type 2 diabetes.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The release doesn’t engage in disease mongering, but neither does it give us much context about Type 2 diabetes incidence. Because the release included a very important caveat about obesity and diabetes prevalence, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. “Individuals vary in how much weight they can carry without it seeming to affect their metabolism – don’t forget that 70% of severely obese people do not have diabetes,” according to the release.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The release does identify multiple funding sources and there is no suggestion of any conflict of interest.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There are alternatives to this diet that have been shown to correct blood sugar results in large studies — specifically weight loss surgery. This should have been mentioned.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Given that the approach of this study focuses on specific foods as key to maintaining weight, and that these foods are commonplace, one assumes that they are readily available in the marketplace.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The study addresses novelty through this statement: “The research is part of a growing body of evidence showing that people with Type 2 diabetes who successfully lose weight can reverse their condition because fat is removed from their pancreas, returning insulin production to normal.” We think that’s not quite appropriate positioning of the results. While it’s true that there is considerable evidence from studies of weight loss surgery that diabetes values can be normalized with significant weight loss, this release is also suggesting that it has proven that all diabetes patients can reverse the disease through diet alterations, and that the benefits are due to a reduction in fat in the pancreas. These claims go too far based on the small study size and a demonstrated 40 percent success rate.

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?

Not Satisfactory

We’re rating this category unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. First, the blatant claim that diabetes can be “reversed” rather than pushed into remission for 6 months based on results from 12 participants who represent less than half of those tested. Second, the lead investigator is first described as “world-renowned” while readers would be hard-pressed to recognize his name. The description of the funders touts its “world-class expertise,” a descriptor which, while it might be correct, offers readers little to help them understand this study.

Total Score: 2 of 9 Satisfactory

Comments (2)

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Robin Dodd

March 26, 2016 at 3:57 am

This study only confirms what many of us have found in practice.
It becomes very, very relevant with the advent of new drugs, such as Victoza, that give some help with weight loss.
Why the so negative attitude ?
The attitude of health care professionals that diabetes is inevitably progressive is unhelpful.
Is self help politically unacceptable ?

Reply

Martin Jenkins

March 26, 2016 at 4:04 am

I was confirmed as a border line diabetic my mother, grandmother, cousin and five other relations are diabetic and my grandmother had to have her leg removed. In three months I changed my diet & what I drank and lost 35lbs and i am no longer a border line diabetic

Reply