By Sally Wardle, Press Association Health and Science Correspondent
Type 2 diabetes can be reversed for at least two years using a weight management programme, a study has found.
More than a third (36%) of people with the condition who spent up to five months on a strict diet with NHS support were still in remission 24 months later, the latest results of a UK trial show.
The scientists behind the study said the findings “pull down the curtain on the era of Type 2 diabetes as an inevitably progressive disease”.
Significant weight loss is closely linked with sustaining remission of the condition, they suggest.
Around 300 people in Scotland and Tyneside with Type 2 diabetes were recruited for the trial, funded by charity Diabetes UK.
Half received standard diabetes care from their GP and half were placed on a weight management programme.
This involved a diet of around 800 calories per day for up to five months, with support from a nurse or dietitian to maintain the weight.
The first year results, published in 2017, showed 46% of participants had reversed their Type 2 diabetes after one year.
Almost two-thirds (64%) of those who lost more than 10kg through the programme were in remission after two years, the latest findings of the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT) show.
Those in remission after the first year, who remained free of Type 2 diabetes in the second year, had an average weight loss of 15.5kg.
Among those who did not stay in remission, the average weight loss was 12kg.
Professor Roy Taylor, from Newcastle University, said: “These results are a significant development, and finally pull down the curtain on the era of Type 2 diabetes as an inevitably progressive disease.
“We now understand the biological nature of this reversible condition. However, everyone in remission needs to know that evidence to date tells us that your Type 2 diabetes will return if you regain weight.
“Even during the second year of freedom from Type 2 diabetes there was a highly suggestive difference in major complications of diabetes.
“The numbers are still small at the moment, and further information on this must be gathered during the planned longer term follow-up.”
Type 2 diabetes is a common condition that causes the level of glucose in the blood to become too high.
The researchers suggest weight loss can lower levels of fat inside the pancreas, helping it to recover and aiding production of insulin.
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: “These results further challenge the perception that Type 2 diabetes needs to be a lifelong condition for everyone diagnosed with it.
“Remission of Type 2 diabetes can be life-changing. DiRECT offers one potential solution, we are committed to working with the researchers and the NHS to ensure these exciting findings reach people with Type 2 diabetes as soon as possible.”
NHS England announced in November that up to 5,000 patients would be prescribed a liquid diet of just over 800 calories per day for three months following the success of trials, as part of its diabetes prevention strategy.
The results of the trial, carried out by Newcastle University and the University of Glasgow, have been presented at a Diabetes UK conference and published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.