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British researchers develop "cure" for Type 2 diabetes: starve yourself

June 25, 2011|By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
  • Obesity is the leading cause of Type 2 diabetes. Dr. Carson Liu prepares a patient for surgery.
Obesity is the leading cause of Type 2 diabetes. Dr. Carson Liu prepares… (Brian Vander Brug )

British researchers have developed what they say is a "cure" for Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease. And all you have to do is starve yourself for eight weeks.

Roy Taylor, head of the magnetic resonance imaging unit at Newcastle University in Britain, and his colleagues studied 11 patients who had developed diabetes later in life and who had had it for several years. The patients averaged 220 pounds at the beginning of the study. Each was put on a 600-calorie-per-day diet that included a special diet drink and non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus and cabbage. The diet was followed for eight weeks.

Taylor reported Saturday at a San Diego meeting of the American Diabetes Assn. and in the journal Diabetologia that, after one week on the diet, each of the patients' fasting blood sugar, taken before breakfast, had returned to normal. At the end of the eight weeks, the patients had lost an average of 33 pounds and had no signs of diabetes. Three months after returning to a normal diet, seven of them remained free of the disease. Average weight gain in that three months was 6.5 pounds.

Taylor believes he has an explanation for the results. At the beginning of the study, MRI scans of the patients' pancreases showed that they held an elevated level of fat, 8% compared with the normal 6%. That extra fat impairs the organ's ability to produce insulin, he speculated. At the end of the study, fat levels in the pancreas were down to normal in each patient.

"We believe that this shows that Type 2 diabetes is all about energy balance in the body," Taylor said in a statement. "If you are eating more [calories] 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."

He added that, "We used the 600-calorie diet to test a hypothesis. What I can tell you definitively is that if people lose substantial weight by normal means, they will lose their diabetes."

An estimated 25 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes, in which the body does not respond properly to insulin produced by the pancreas. Experts recommend that patients consult with a doctor before attempting such an extreme diet.

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