British scientists are launching a study to discover whether a low-calorie diet really can send type 2 diabetes into remission.
The charity Diabetes UK is funding the project, which aims to give a definitive answer on whether consuming just 800 calories a day can reverse the disease, linked to obesity.
In the UK, around 3.8 million people have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, with type 2 accounting for about 90 per cent of cases. This figure includes around 850,000 people who have type 2 diabetes but do not know it. As many as seven million more people are at high risk of developing type 2.
The £2.4m study will be carried out by researchers at Newcastle University and the University of Glasgow. It will see 140 people with type 2 diabetes spend between eight and 20 weeks consuming just 800 calories per day, mainly in the form of nutritionally complete liquid formula shakes.
Then, as normal meals are reintroduced, they will learn how to change their lifestyles permanently.
Over a two-year follow-up the results will be compared with 120 people following current recommendations for losing weight.
As well as monitoring the long-term effects of the diet, some of the participants will have MRI scans which will show researchers what is happening inside the body during the diet.
A 2011 study in the journal Diabetologia found a diet of 600 calories a day could reverse type 2 diabetes in people newly diagnosed with the disease.
The Newcastle University study found the low-calorie diet reduced fat levels in the pancreas and liver, which helped insulin production return to normal.
Seven out of 11 people studied were free of diabetes three months later.
Diabetes UK is now keen to carry out a larger study with a longer follow-up that will closely examine the long-term effect of such diets.
Dr Matthew Hobbs, head of research for the charity, said: “Type 2 diabetes will always be a serious health condition but perhaps it won’t always be seen as a condition that people have to manage for the rest of their lives and that worsens inevitably over time.”