Credits: Stevendepolo, used under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license
In an early stage clinical trial of 11 people, all the participants reversed their diabetes by drastically cutting their food intake to just 600 calories a day for two months.
And three months later, seven remained free of diabetes.
"To have people free of diabetes after years with the condition is remarkable -- and all because of an eight-week diet," researcher Roy Taylor said in a release about the study, which was presented Friday at the American Diabetes Association conference.
"This is a radical change in understanding Type 2 diabetes. It will change how we can explain it to people newly diagnosed with the condition. While it has long been believed that someone with Type 2 diabetes will always have the disease, and that it will steadily get worse, we have shown that we can reverse the condition."
Traditionally, Type 2 diabetes has been thought of as a progressive condition, which initially is controlled by diet, then tablets, but may eventually require insulin injections.
Under close medical supervision, the 11 participants, who had developed diabetes later in life, were put on an extreme diet that consisted of liquid diet drinks and non-starchy vegetables. They were matched to a control group of people without diabetes and then monitored over eight weeks. Insulin production from their pancreas and fat content in the liver and pancreas were studied.
After just one week, the Newcastle University team found the participants' pre-breakfast blood sugar levels had returned to normal.
A special MRI scan of each participant's pancreas revealed that the fat levels had returned to normal. Each participant's pancreas also regained the normal ability to make insulin.
Researchers followed up with the participants three months later. During this time they had returned to eating normally but had received advice on portion size and healthy eating. Of the ten people re-tested, seven remained free of diabetes.
Participant Gordon Parmley, 67, said when he first started the study, "the hunger was quite severe."
"At the end of the trial, I was told my insulin levels were normal and after six years, I no longer needed my diabetes tablets. Still today, 18 months on, I don't take them. It's astonishing really that a diet -- hard as it was -- could change my health so drastically. After six years of having diabetes I can tell the difference -- I feel better, even walking round the golf course is easier," he said.
Diabetes UK paid for the study, and while impressed with the results, the director of research, Dr. Iain Frame, suggests patients talk with a doctor before attempting any kind of diet.
"This diet is not an easy fix and Diabetes UK strongly recommends that such a drastic diet should only be undertaken under medical supervision. Despite being a very small trial, we look forward to future results particularly to see whether the reversal would remain in the long term," Frame said.