The low-carbohydrate diet is a hotly disputed management technique for people with diabetes, and a new publication in The BMJ has added further evidence of its benefits.

The case review, reported by Southport GP Dr. David Unwin, followed a patient with type 2 diabetes who came off his medication (metformin, simvastatin, perindopril and aspirin) after adopting a low-carb diet.

Dr. Unwin, who shared his findings on the Forum, concluded: “The patient steadily lost a total of 16 kg over seven months and successfully stopped all four prescribed drugs, thereby achieving his goal of being medication-free. This was accomplished using a low carbohydrate diet—in his words: ‘more a lifestyle than a diet.’”

The findings from this study are intriguing, and publication in the BMJ, one of the leading worldwide medical journals, provides further credence to the low-carb diet.

The low-carb diet is continually gaining backing, especially through success stories posted in the DCUK forum. It was these accounts that originally left Dr. Unwin “impressed and moved” before he ran a “hugely promising” pilot study in 2014 with 19 type 2 diabetes patients.

Dr. Unwin published these findings in Practical Diabetes. In the study, which lasted eight months, 17 of the 19 participants had healthy HbA1c levels after adopting a low-carb diet.

In Dr. Unwin’s second study, his patient lost 16kg (2.5 stone) during seven months of eating a low-carb diet. Dr. Unwin added: “The weight loss has been maintained for a year, so he weighs less now than at any time in his adult life.”

The patient’s HbA1C fell from 52 mmol/mol to 43 mmol/mol, his blood pressure dropped and he came off the medication he was being treated with. Previous bloating and abdominal pains also disappeared within days of stopping metformin.

Status of the low-carb diet

The low-carb diet has been shown to improve blood glucose control and HbA1c levels, while it can also help with weight loss and type 2 management.

However, most medical guidelines in the UK do not recommend the diet. The NHS advocates eating relatively high-carb and low-fat foods, while Diabetes UK highlights a lack of evidence regarding the “long-term safety” of the diet.

As a result, the low-carb diet is not widely referenced in the mainstream. This is despite leading doctors recommending it.

In May, Dr. Sarah Hallberg told us to ignore the guidelines and eat low-carb, high-fat foods. “Carbohydrate intake is the single biggest factor in blood sugar levels and therefore the need for medication,” she said. “We are essentially recommending that they eat exactly what’s causing their problem.”

Furthermore, leading diabetes self-management expert, Dr. David Cavan, who wrote the book Reverse Your Diabetes, outlines how a restricted-carb diet can control type 2 diabetes.

Impact of the study

While there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, this study is yet another example of how the low-carb diet can be influential in helping patients come off medication.

Reversing type 2 diabetes is challenging, but possible, and a low-carb diet requires less insulin to be produced, taking the strain of insulin-producing cells and reducing insulin resistance. Entering remission from type 2 is much more likely through a low-carb diet than eating moderate and high carbs, which necessitates further insulin production.

The impact of this study remains to be seen, but Dr. Unwin is optimistic regarding its significance. “The very fact that the BMJ agreed to publish shows great progress,” he wrote on the DCUK Forum. “On top of which partly because of the world wide low-carb community the article itself is currently ranked in the top 5% of published articles. It’s being read from Argentina to New Zealand.”

While this study alone is unlikely to result in dramatic U-turns from Diabetes UK and the NHS, it is additional evidence that the low-carb diet benefits for people with diabetes.

Further research is needed – especially long-term studies – to yield changes in general dietary advice given in the UK, but this particular high-profile publication is a big step forward.

Have you been able to come off your diabetes medication after undertaking a low-carb diet? Share your thoughts below.

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