An extreme diet of just 600 calories a day may reverse diabetes in some patients, a new study finds.
After one week on the diet, diabetes patients saw their blood glucose levels return to normal, indicating their diabetes had gone into remission. Eight of the 11 patients remained diabetes-free three months after they stopped the diet.
Previous studies have found a similar reversal of diabetes immediately after gastric bypass surgery. But the new study, conducted by researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, shows this quick resolution is possible through diet alone.
However, if the patients gained back all the weight they lost, it's likely their diabetes would come back too, said Dr. Ronald Goldberg, a professor of medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine's Diabetes Research Institute, who was not involved in the new study. And in people who haven't had gastric bypass, a surgery that makes the stomach smaller, such a calorie-sparse diet would be hard to keep up, Goldberg said.
The patients adhered to a liquid-based diet consisting of meal replacement drinks. It also included three portions of non-starchy vegetables per day. The diet lasted for eight weeks.
After seven days, the participants' blood-glucose levels were comparable with those of people who did not have diabetes.
The participants also saw a reduction in the fat content of their liver and pancreas both during and after the diet. It's thought excess fat in the liver and pancreas may be an underlying cause of diabetes.
Participants lost an average of 33 pounds (15 kilograms) during their diet. Twelve weeks after the diet had finished, subjects had put back on an average of 6.5 pounds (3 kg).
The findings may only apply to people who have not had diabetes for a long period of time —the participants had diabetes for less than four years prior to the study.
It's also unclear whether their diabetes will remain in remission for years rather than just months, the researchers said.
The study was published online June 9 in the journal Diabetologia.
Pass it on: An extreme diet may rapidly reverse diabetes, but it's unclear how long the effects last.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.