For decades, the scourge of type 2 diabetes has caused untold misery. Almost four million Britons are now living with the condition.
Incredibly, one in six NHS beds is occupied by a patient with the condition, which can lead to terrible complications and shortens sufferers’ lives by an average of six years – all while costing taxpayers £10billion a year.
Yet, after decades in which the news on diabetes and obesity only seemed to be getting worse, this could all at last be about to change.
As today’s Mail reveals, under a new and pioneering NHS pilot scheme, doctors will prescribe a three-month low-calorie diet of soups and shakes to 5,000 people living with diabetes across England.
Professor Roy Taylor who is a professor of medicine and metabolism at Newcastle University
If successful, the technique could be rolled out across the country, where I believe it could potentially arrest diabetes in millions of patients, helping them to achieve long-term remission from this terrible condition.
The programme is based on clear evidence that type 2 diabetes can be conquered – and even reversed – if people lose enough weight.
And it is all the more timely, of course, given everything we know about how much worse people with obesity and diabetes often fare when they are hit by the coronavirus.
I have been working at the forefront of diabetes research for over 30 years so I naturally welcome this vital and long-overdue intervention.
In fact, my team at Newcastle University was the first to pinpoint the precise connection between being susceptible to a little more fat than you can cope with and developing type 2 diabetes in 2011.
I calculated that a person would need to lose at least two-and-a-half stone for the diabetes to be reversed.
Despite widespread scepticism from experts who thought that the disease would return once the patients stopped their diet, we showed that type 2 diabetes can be reversed – permanently – simply by losing weight.
In our latest study, also funded by Diabetes UK, we put 149 overweight patients with type 2 on a liquid diet of 800 calories a day for 12 weeks followed by a gradual switch back to normal foods.
Two years later, over one-third of them had no diabetes.
Others improved so much that the tablets they took to treat the condition could be reduced or stopped, even though their diabetes may not have gone into remission.
Those who lost two stone or more, and kept the weight off, had normal blood sugar levels and no longer needed diabetes drugs two years on.
And all of them benefited in terms of their overall health.
One person who was due to have a knee replacement operation even found that their pain went away so they cancelled the surgery. It was all hugely cheering.
What astonished me most, however, was that our patients all found the whole process much easier than they – or we – had expected. They reported feeling much more energetic after only a couple of weeks into the weight loss.
Under a new and pioneering NHS pilot scheme, doctors will prescribe a three-month low-calorie diet of soups and shakes to 5,000 people living with diabetes across England
The most common comment was: ‘I feel 10 years younger.’
Rates of cancer and heart attacks were also far lower than in a matched set of patients following NHS guidelines and taking tablets for their diabetes.
That study reinforced how absolutely essential diet is to treating diabetes.
To do anything about the condition, one must start in the kitchen. Of course, exercise is great for overall health, but, as they say, you can’t outrun a bad diet.
During our research, we came across what must be the best-kept secret in weight loss: Do not start an exercise programme until after you have lost some weight with a calorie-controlled diet.
It’s only after losing a significant amount of weight that we advise people to increase their physical activities.
This pilot scheme will be supervised by experienced medical professionals to ensure that patients will lose weight in a safe and healthy manner.
Furthermore, the subjects will get a lot of support, whether that is one-to-one advice or support from their peers who will find themselves in a similar position.
The new NHS England programme builds on important insights gleaned from 20 years of research.
For people with recently diagnosed type 2 diabetes, health may start here.
n Professor Roy Taylor’s Life Without Diabetes: The Definitive Guide To Understanding and Reversing Type 2 Diabetes is published by Short Books at £9.99.