Scientists have shown fat accumulating in the pancreas causes the disease and losing less than one gram from the organ can reverse the life-limiting illness and restore insulin production.
But now researchers have shown that the disease can be reversed, even in obese people who have had the condition for a long time.
18 obese people with Type 2 diabetes who were given gastric band surgery and put on a restricted diet for eight weeks were cured of their condition. During the trial the patients, aged between 25 and 65, lost an average of 2.2 stone, which was around 13 per cent of their body weight. Crucially they also lost 0.6 grams of fat from their pancreas, allowing the organ to secrete normal levels of insulin.
What is interesting is that regardless of your present body weight and how you lose weight, the critical factor in reversing your Type 2 diabetes is losing that one-gram of fat from the pancreas.
The illness used to be called ‘mature onset’ diabetes because it was associated with the middle-aged and elderly, but in the past 15 years it has been seen in children and in September a three-year-old girl was diagnosed with the condition, the youngest patient ever seen.
Traditionally, Type 2 diabetes is seen as a progressive condition, which is controlled by diet initially, then tablets, but which may eventually require insulin injections.
The new study is the first to suggest that keeping weight down can cure patients. Researchers were able to spot the link between fat in the pancreas and diabetes because of a new MRI scanning technique, which allowed them to accurately test levels of fatty deposits in the organ. It showed that fat levels decreased by 1.2 per cent over eight weeks in diabetic patients. During the eight weeks the patients were asked to limit the calorie intake to 1200 kcal a day, around half of recommended levels.
A control group of non-diabetic obese patients saw no change in the level of fat in their pancreas demonstrating that the increase in fat in the pancreas is specific to people who develop Type 2 diabetes.
“What we need to do now is make sure that this weight loss is sustainable in the long term, which is why we are doing a much bigger trial to see if people can keep the weight off. Obviously some people will struggle to do that and it won’t be for everyone.
“But this is good news as we can now tell people that if they lose weight they will get better. Being lighter also helps people become more physically active, which should also help keep the weight off.”
Charities said the study highlighted the important link between diet and diabetes.
“It highlights once again the importance of being a healthy weight to reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes, as well as the potential for weight loss – ideally through diet but also, where that fails, through surgery – to reverse Type 2 diabetes.