A soup and shake diet being rolled out on the NHS can reverse type 2 diabetes for at least five years, new research has shown.
Almost a quarter of people in remission from diabetes two years after starting a low-calorie diet were still free of the condition three years later.
Experts say it is further evidence that lifestyle changes rather than medication can help beat the disease, described last week as a ‘rapidly escalating crisis’ in the UK.
They believe losing weight and keeping it off is key to curing the serious condition, which has spiralled alongside obesity rates over the last decade.
The latest findings are a continuation of the original trial found to slash diabetes cases by almost half in those who followed the year-long programme.
Under the programme, participants are given a low-calorie, nutrient-complete soup and shake diet totally around 800 calories per day for between 12 and 20 weeks. They also receive support from a nurse or dietician to reintroduce healthy foods and maintain weight loss while medications for type 2 diabetes and blood pressure were stopped. The new trial data has shown almost a quarter of people in remission from diabetes two years after starting the low-calorie diet were still free of the condition three years later
Its early success has so far seen more than 2,000 people start treatment on NHS England’s low-calorie diet programme, offered at around half of health boards in England.
The full expansion of the scheme is expected to be completed by next March, with doctors hopeful it will save tens of thousands from developing the condition each year.
Under the programme, participants are given a low-calorie, nutrient-complete soup and shake diet totally around 800 calories per day for between 12 and 20 weeks.
They also receive support from a nurse or dietician to reintroduce healthy foods and maintain weight loss while medications for type 2 diabetes and blood pressure were stopped.
At the end of the original two-year study, 95 of the 149 people on the weight-loss programme agreed to take part in an extension study lasting three years.
WHAT IS TYPE 2 DIABETES?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition which causes a person’s blood sugar to get too high.
More than 4million people in the UK are thought to have some form of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight and you may be more likely to get it if it’s in the family.
The condition means the body does not react properly to insulin – the hormone which controls absorption of sugar into the blood – and cannot properly regulate sugar glucose levels in the blood.
Excess fat in the liver increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as the buildup makes it harder to control glucose levels, and also makes the body more resistant to insulin.
Weight loss is the key to reducing liver fat and getting symptoms under control.
Symptoms include tiredness, feeling thirsty, and frequent urination.
It can lead to more serious problems with nerves, vision and the heart.
Treatment usually involves changing your diet and lifestyle, but more serious cases may require medication.
Source: NHS Choices; Diabetes.co.uk
This new data shows that of these, 48 were in remission at the start of the extension study, and 23 per cent of these were still in remission three years later – having managed to keep weight off.
The proportion of people in remission five years after the original study started was more than three times that of the control group, who just received usual GP care.
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK which funded the study, said the new findings confirm that it is possible to stay in remission long-term.
She said: ‘For those who put type 2 diabetes into remission, it can be life-changing, offering a better chance of a healthier future.
‘For those that aren’t able to go into remission, losing weight can still lead to major health benefits, including improved blood sugar levels, and reduced risk of serious diabetes complications such as heart attack and stroke.’
The findings reinforced that remission was closely linked to weight loss, with those who managed to maintain a healthy weight, more likely to keep the all-clear.
Anyone who regained more than just over 4lb (2kg) during years three to five of the study was offered an additional package of support, available once a year.
This consisted of the low-calorie soups and shake diet for another four weeks, followed by help while reintroducing normal meals.
Compared to the control group, those put on a diet and offered support had bigger improvements in blood pressure and blood sugar levels and fewer people needed medication.
The number of serious health issues resulting in hospital admission in the dieting group was also less than half that in the control group.
The findings come a week after it was revealed the number of diabetes cases in the UK is thought to have surpassed 5 million for the first time.
Almost 4.3million people were living with diabetes in 2021-2022, according to figures, with another 850,000 people living with the condition but unaware they have it.
Approximately 90 per cent of diabetes cases are type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and is typically diagnosed in middle age, rather than type 1 diabetes, which is a genetic condition usually identified early in life.
Professor Jonathan Valabhji, diabetes and obesity chief at NHS England, said: ‘The NHS is already making the best use of this research for patients through our low calorie diet programme, which has seen fantastic early results; and we plan to expand the scheme nationwide, to give thousands more the chance to shed the pounds and improve their health.
‘With participants losing over two stone in three months on average, and maintaining that weight loss at six months, rolling out low calorie diets on the NHS may help many more people to turn the tide on type 2 diabetes and potentially slash their risk of serious health implications.’