Type 2 diabetes (T2D) has long been identified as an incurable chronic disease. It has an estimated worldwide prevalence of 9.3 percent in 2019, which suggests that about 463 million people suffer from it.
And, like most chronic diseases, the cost of living with and managing diabetes in the long term is rather high. Data provided by institutions like the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) suggests that the cost of diabetes drugs is forever on the rise and the increasing global prevalence of the disease in recent decades means that healthcare resources are likely to be increasingly pressurized to provide long-term care and treatment to a growing number of patients.
Given that this is a global concern, treatment methods and therapies that can help reverse diabetes might be more useful now than ever before. But is reversing diabetes even possible?
A new study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health suggests that it is.
It must be noted here that this new study isn’t the first that suggests reversing diabetes is possible. A 2018 study in Diabetes Therapy found that of 262 T2D patients, 60 percent were able to reverse their diagnosis, meaning that their glycated hemoglobin (A1C) was within the normal range after a year of following a low-carb diet and using a diabetes drug called metformin.
Another study in Nutrients in 2019 suggests that bariatric surgery, carbohydrate restriction and low-calorie diets may be effective in reversing diabetes. The study, however, noted that bariatric surgery is complicated, heavy on the pocket and requires intense follow-up care: indicating that it’s not the best method to reverse diabetes for everyone. On the other hand, the study also states that there have been no clinical trials that prove reversal is possible using only diet regulation and without drug interventions.
Drug-free reversal of type 2 diabetes
So was the scenario until the publication of a new study in BMJ. The researchers behind this study gathered data from the Norwood general practice in North England between March 2013 and March 2019.
Baseline weight and blood pressures were measured by trained general practitioners and nurses, while the blood tests for hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and lipid profiles were done by the local NHS clinics and labs.
All participants were recommended to stick to a low-carb diet, which included a reduction in the intake of sugary and starchy foods, like breakfast cereals, rice or potatoes, and replacing them with green leafy vegetables, eggs, meat, fish, berries and nuts.
The patients were asked to depend on low glycemic index (GI) foods; glycemic load data and its effects were explained to them at length to discourage the consumption of high GI foods. The recommendations were further tailored according to individual risks and health assessments and further blood tests and monitoring was done on the basis of the same.
By the end of March 2019, 128 patients with T2D and 71 prediabetic patients were able to stick to this low-carb diet for an average of 23 months. All T2D patients had an average weight reduction of 8.3 kilos during this time, while their HbA1c levels dropped from 65.5 mmol/mol (187.27 mg/dl) to 48 mmol/mol (141.25 mg/dl). The new HbA1c levels are considered to be in the good blood glucose control range (121-150 mg/dl). In the case of the prediabetes patients, the HbA1c levels went down from 44 mmol/mol (130.73 mg/dl) to 39 mmol/mol (117.58 mg/dl).
The study found that drug-free T2D remission had occurred in 46 percent of the participants, while 93 percent of prediabetes patients had normal HbA1c levels without any medications. This study shows that the dietary advice of low-carb consumption for patients with T2D and prediabetes shows significant improvements in HbA1c, lipid profile and blood pressure levels.
The same advice also works with a minimal or no drug intervention, indicating that the drug budgets of patients and healthcare systems can be lessened. This research also indicates that successful reversion of T2D is possible with drug-free therapies and more research should be conducted to see if these promising metabolic health outcomes can be replicated all over the world.
For more information, read our article on Diet for diabetes.
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