Reversing type 2 diabetes: Low-calorie vs. low-carbohydrate

With self-made billionaire Richard Branson now joining the fight, the battle to reverse type 2 diabetes continues to gain powerful allies.

An interesting dynamic, however, are the different stances being taken in approaching type 2 diabetes, with two practised diets of note being low-carbohydrate and low-calorie.

Low-calorie diet

On 15 December 2014, Virgin founder Branson announced the launch of the Barbados Diabetes Reversal Study, which is to examine if a very low calorie diet can reverse type 2 diabetes.

A low calorie diet is defined by the National Health Service (NHS) as between 1,000-1,500 calories per day for women and between 1,500-2,000 calories per day for men. A very low calorie diet, meanwhile, is defined as a calorie intake of 1,000 calories or less per day.

Branson’s Virgin Unite team are hoping to build on research that a balanced diet low in calories, and with lots of exercise, can allow people with type 2 diabetes to effectively control their blood sugars by producing enough insulin.

On top of this, Diabetes UK are currently funding a £2.4 million research project aiming to assess if weight loss through an ultra-low calorie liquid diet, and assisted weight management, can send type 2 diabetes into long-term remission.

The Newcastle Diet

Well-known research investigating the reversal of type 2 diabetes using calorie reduction is the Newcastle Diet, which was conducted at Newcastle University.

Under Professor Roy Taylor, researchers examined 11 people with type 2 diabetes who slashed their food intake to 600 calories per day for eight weeks.

Three months later, seven of the 11 studied appeared to be free of diabetes, with marked improvements in their blood sugar levels.

How does a low-calorie diet work?

Anyone looking to implement a low-calorie diet as a method of managing or reversing their diabetes should consult a doctor beforehand. Very low calorie diets are generally regarded as extreme.

The way a very low calorie diet reportedly works is by prompting the body to remove fat that clogs the pancreas. The insulin-producing cells in people with type 2 diabetes then “wake up” and restore blood sugar levels to normal.

However, people supposedly cured from a low-calorie diet still need to be disciplined with diet and exercise afterwards to prevent or delay diabetes symptoms returning.

Low-carbohydrate diet

Carbohydrates are recognised as a fundamental influence on blood sugar levels, with many people with diabetes finding that a low-carbohydrate diet helps them to control their blood sugar better than other diets.

In 2008, physician Richard K Bernstein categorised daily moderate carbohydrate intake as 130 to 225g of carbs, low carbohydrate as under 130g of carbs and very low carbohydrate as under 30g of carbs

Reducing carbohydrate intake can help reduce blood glucose levels after meals, but it can also successfully aid in weight loss.

This reduction means that people with type 2 diabetes injecting insulin will have less insulin circulating in their bodies, which can reduce or reverse weight gain.

Dr. David Unwin, a GP working in Southport, discovered “hugely promising results” from a small pilot study on 19 type 2 diabetes patients who had been put on a low-carbohydrate diet.

This study investigated how low-carbohydrate diets affected biological markers of diabetes, with a marked improvement shown in patients’ blood glucose control. 17 of the 19 patients had healthy HbA1c levels, decreased waist circumference and improved blood pressure at the study’s end.

Reverse Your Diabetes

Reverse Your Diabetes – The Step-by-Step Plan to Take Control of Type 2 Diabetes, is a book from Dr. David Cavan, director of policy at the International Diabetes Federation.

In his book, Cavan strongly advocates a low-carbohydrate diet to potentially reverse type 2 diabetes.

However, he also defends fat intake, which he argues had a bad reputation because “it is so easy to link the two and think that fat in food causes fat people.”

For people researching a low-calorie diet, this information would contradict that respective diet, with the focus instead on reducing carbohydrate intake, but allowing a higher level of calories.

Low-calorie vs. low-carb

Science seems to have its eggs in two baskets in the battle against type 2 diabetes, although for now studies comparing the two diets have only analysed which one helps with greater weight loss.

In 2003, Brehm BJ, et al assessed 53 obese females who were randomised to either a low-fat or a low-carbohydrate diet in which calories for restricted. After six months, the low-carbohydrate group lost 2.2 times as much weight.

Similar results were found by Foster GD, et al, in the same year in a 12-month study, with 63 individuals separated into the same groups. While the low-carbohydrate group showed more weight loss at three and six months, there was less of a difference after 12 months.

The fight to reverse type 2 diabetes is on, and with pioneers like Richard Branson, whether it’s a low-carb or low-calorie diet, it appears that the future is bright to prospectively reverse type 2 diabetes globally in this generation.

However, with most studies focusing on the effects of weight loss between low-calorie and low-carbohydrate diets, more research now needs to be conducted investigating how biological markers of diabetes are affected from these diets.

 

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About the author

Jack Woodfield

Jack is a 27-year-old journalist based in Coventry, UK. He is a type 1 diabetic who enjoys sport, boring weekends, MTV and once won a talent show for dancing to Dario G’s 1997 hit “Sunchyme”.

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