In the last decade there has been an explosion in the number of type 2 diabetes cases, coinciding with a massive rise in obesity.
The disease is a long-term condition caused by too much glucose, a type of sugar, in the blood.
Now, researchers at Newcastle University in the UK say they have found a simple way to reverse it; lose weight.
After a small trial, the scientists have concluded that reducing the amount of fat around the pancreas in type 2 diabetes patients returns organ functions to normal. They say this shows that the excess fat in the diabetic pancreas is specific to type 2 diabetes and important in preventing insulin from being made.
When that excess fat is removed, insulin secretion increases to normal levels. In other words, they were diabetes free.
This isn't the first study to suggest weight loss might reverse type 2 diabetes. Last year, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that bariatric surgery – reducing the size of the stomach so the patient loses weight – appeared to be effective in reversing diabetes.
Meanwhile, like most chronic diseases, type 2 diabetes is treated with drugs, including the newly approved Jardiance.
Roy Taylor, a professor at Newcastle University, says losing weight simply helps patients with type 2 diabetes drain excess fat out of the pancreas, and that allows function to return to normal.
One gram of pancreas fat
“So if you ask how much weight you need to lose to make your diabetes go away, the answer is one gram. But that gram needs to be fat from the pancreas,” Taylor said. “At present the only way we have to achieve this is by calorie restriction by any means – whether by diet or an operation.”
In the trial, type 2 diabetes patients saw the fat levels in their pancreas decrease by as much as 1.2% over eight weeks. With an average pancreas for a person with Type 2 diabetes having a volume of 50 ml, this is the equivalent of around 0.6 grams of fat.
The patients who had never had diabetes experienced no change in the level of fat in their pancreas. That told the scientists that the increase in fat in the pancreas is specific to people who develop type 2 diabetes.
The fat in the pancreas may, in fact, be a trigger for the disease, and individuals vary in how much fat they can tolerate in the pancreas before type 2 diabetes develops.
What to do
Taylor says the research may transform the thinking about type 2 diabetes and its treatment.
Keep in mind, this is a report of research findings. It should not be used by patients to make unilateral decisions about their care or to start or stop prescribed medications.
If you have concerns about type 2 diabetes treatments, you should discuss them with your doctor, mentioning this study.