Dr Lim, who graduated from Newcastle University Medical School in 2000 and completed her specialty training in Endocrinology and Diabetes earlier this year, carried out the study as part of her postgraduate doctoral degree is working with the team led by Professor Roy Taylor.
“To have people free of diabetes after years with the condition is remarkable and all because of an eight week diet, which also regains the body’s ability to make insulin, ” said Dr. Lim.
Currently an estimated 1.4 million Malaysians, or one in six adults above the age of 30, have diabetes. Of those, 98% have Type 2 diabetes, which is a long-term condition caused by too much glucose – a type of sugar – in the blood.
In an early stage clinical trial of 11 people, all 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.
“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 now reverse the condition,” said Dr. Lim.
Traditionally, it had been thought that as a progressive condition, Type 2 diabetes can be controlled by diet initially then tablets, but would eventually require insulin injections; and the findings of the Newcastle University team now provides a news perspective to treating it.
Type 2 diabetes, which was once known as adult-onset diabetes, is now also found in young adults and children as a result of the pancreas not producing enough insulin to break down excessive glucose or due to the body not reacting to the hormone, known as insulin sensitivity.
Under close supervision of the research team, the 11 adults were put on an extreme diet of just 600 calories a day consisting 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, while the insulin production from their pancreas and fat content in the liver and pancreas were studied.
After just one week, the team found that their pre-breakfast blood sugar levels had returned to normal while a special MRI scan of their pancreas revealed that the fat levels in the pancreas had returned from an elevated level to normal (from around 8% to 6%), allowing it to regain the normal ability to make insulin which reduced blood sugar after meals.
The volunteers then returned to three months of eating normally but received advice on portion size and healthy eating. When re-tested, seven remained free of diabetes.
“We believe this shows that Type 2 diabetes is all about energy balance in the body,” explained Dr Lim, “if you are eating more than you burn, then the excess is stored in the liver and pancreas as fat which can lead to Type 2 diabetes in some people. What we need to examine further is why some people are more susceptible to developing diabetes than others.”
Gordon Parmley, 67, who took part in the trial said: “At first the hunger was quite severe and I had to distract myself and take my mind off food, but I lost an astounding amount of weight in a short space of time. 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. Till today, 18 months on, I still 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.”
published on: 10th July 2011