11:48pm Saturday 25 January 2020

Low-calorie diets for Type 2 diabetes assessed

The £2.4 million research project funded by Diabetes UK will be carried out by researchers at Newcastle University and the University of Glasgow. It aims to answer the question of whether losing weight on a low calorie liquid diet and keeping it off using a structured, personalised support programme is a viable treatment for putting Type 2 diabetes into remission in the long-term.

Professor Roy Taylor, the lead researcher at Newcastle University, said: “We know that changes in calorie intake can produce changes in body composition that, at least in some people, can put Type 2 diabetes into remission. But this new study will evaluate how well people do using this approach and uncover problems that might be faced.

“We are exploring uncharted territory and along the way there will be challenges, details to unravel, and other questions to ask. But I believe this study will lead to a quantum leap forward in our understanding of how best to manage Type 2 diabetes.”

The trial

In the trial, 140 people with Type 2 diabetes will spend between eight and 20 weeks consuming just 800 calories per day, mainly in the form of nutritionally-complete formula shakes. Then, as normal meals are reintroduced, they will learn how to change their lifestyles permanently.

Participants will be monitored over the next two years and their results will be compared to another 140 people who have not followed the diet but have instead followed what is currently accepted as the best advice for managing weight.

As well as monitoring the long-term effects of the diet, some of the participants will have MRI scans, which will show researchers what is happening inside the body during the diet.

This will be the largest single research project Diabetes UK has ever funded in its 79-year history. It follows a study from 2011 that found that 11 people with Type 2 diabetes who spent eight weeks on a low-calorie liquid diet all saw their insulin production return to normal and their Type 2 diabetes put into remission. These findings backed up anecdotal reports and results from bariatric surgery to raise the prospect of transforming the way Type 2 diabetes is treated.

But because the 2011 study was designed to better understand the biological processes in the body and only followed its participants for a relatively short period of time, scientists do not yet fully understand the long-term effect of these diets. This is why a longer and larger study is needed to find out whether the benefits of following such a restrictive diet outweigh any adverse effects. Also, the 2011 study was carried out in a research setting and so it is unclear whether such diets can be transferred to a larger scale as part of routine GP care, where large numbers of overweight people with Type 2 diabetes are managed in the UK.

Because of these unanswered questions, Diabetes UK does not yet recommend low-calorie liquid diets to people with Type 2 diabetes. But the charity is confident that the new study will answer these questions and so give the NHS enough evidence to make a decision on whether low-calorie diets should be offered as a routine treatment option.

Dr Matthew Hobbs, Head of Research for Diabetes UK, said: “Type 2 diabetes will always be a serious health condition but perhaps it won’t always be seen as a condition that people have to manage for the rest of their lives and that worsens inevitably over time. The 2011 study and evidence from bariatric surgery has shown us that it can be put into remission. If we can do this safely, on a bigger scale and as part of routine care, then following a low-calorie liquid diet would be a real game changer in terms of reducing people’s risk of devastating health complications such as amputation and blindness.”

(Adapted from Diabetes UK press release)


Key Facts:

  • Newcastle University is a Russell Group University
  • We rank in the top 20 of UK universities in The Sunday Times 2013 University Guide
  • Amongst our peers Newcastle is:
    • 5th in the UK for graduates into jobs (HESA 2011-12)
    • 10th in the UK for student satisfaction
    • Ranked 8th in the UK for Medical research power
    • In the UK’s top 12 for research power in Science and Engineering
  • 95% of our students are in a job or further training within six months of graduating
  • We have a world-class reputation for research excellence and are spearheading three major societal challenges that have a significant impact on global society. These themes are: Ageing and Health, Sustainability, and Social Renewal
  • Newcastle University is the first UK university to establish a fully owned international branch campus for medicine at its NUMed Campus in Malaysia which opened in 2011
  • Our International students put Newcastle University in world’s top 12 (ISB 2011)

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