According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people living with diabetes will have doubled from what it was in 2000. This means more than 234 million people throughout the world will be considered diabetic. Fortunately, it is possible to avoid developing diabetes, and to manage it and live an active life if you do have it. Your diet is one of the most important tools you have when it comes to preventing and managing diabetes.

The average recommended daily calories for an adult ranges from approximately 1200 to 2000, depending on a persons age and activity level. A person who wants to lose weight usually eats fewer calories than someone trying to maintain or gain weight. The key to successful weight loss is burning more calories than you consume, which usually means reducing what you eat each day. Your caloric intake is a major factor in how your body operates and performs.

The calories you eat also affect how your body responds to diabetes. Recent research has shown that a diet of about 600 calories per day might be able to reverse type 2 diabetes. There was a time when type 2 diabetes was a life sentence of testing your blood sugar and restricting your diet forever. Now there is evidence that people who follow a restricted diet might have the best chance of reversing type 2 diabetes.

The study was published by the medical journal Diabetologia and was presented at the American Diabetes Associations annual meeting. The 11 people participating had received their diagnosis of type 2 diabetes within four years of the study. They reduced their daily caloric intake to 600 per day for eight weeks, consuming mainly low-calorie liquids and non-starchy vegetables. Seven of the 11 participants were diabetes free by the studys end.

Why Does Reducing Calories Create this Effect?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is no longer able to produce enough insulin to function properly or the insulin it does produce malfunctions. The fat inhibits the beta cell production of insulin. This causes blood sugar levels to skyrocket.

A low calorie diet reduces the amount of fat present in the liver and pancreas. This makes it possible for insulin to be produced as normal and to function as expected. The body is able to return to its natural ability to perform.

Participants in the study underwent MRIs that allowed researchers to examine their pancreases before and after the calorie reduction. Each participant experienced a drop of around 8% fat content (considered high) to about 6% fat content (considered normal). Participants in the study weighed an average of 220 pounds and lost about 30 to 35 pounds during the study.

Are the Results of Temporary Low Calorie Dieting Permanent?

Surprisingly, the information in the study is not completely new to doctors familiar with diabetes. The study did provide new information regarding why the improvements occur when a persons diet is restricted. Unfortunately, researchers are unsure if these health improvements are long-term. Restricting calories to this degree long-term can be dangerous. Since a person must eventually return to normal eating, there is some concern the disease will eventually return. Fortunately, most people create a new normal after restricting calories this severely. Either their diagnosis is eye opening enough to encourage healthy changes or their commitment to the temporary restrictive diet helps them reset their lifestyle.

Voluntary Restrictive Diets vs. Weight Loss Surgery

One of the reasons researchers were not surprised by the results of the restrictive diet study was because they have seen similar results with bariatric surgery patients. People who undergo bariatric surgery have no choice but to drastically reduce their caloric intake, usually just as low, or lower, than the study participants. Patients often experience an improvement in insulin sensitivity similar to what was seen in the study, too.

Doctors are eager to point out the study should not imply weight loss surgery is less effective for diabetic than previously believed. They believe it should still be viewed as a valuable tool in managing diabetes because it makes calorie restriction a necessity. Some patients are unable to naturally restrict their caloric intake that severely without the surgery.

There is also evidence that factors in addition to weight loss could play a role in how diabetics who undergo weight loss surgery respond following their procedure. After surgery, patients typically experience an improvement in glycemic control before they even lose a significant amount of weight, usually within three weeks of their operation.

There is additional research comparing patients who underwent gastric bypass with those who adhered to a 500 calorie per day diet consisting of food similar to what surgery patients ate in the days following their operation.

Both groups experienced similar results over the course of 21 days. Gastric bypass patients lost approximately 8% of their body weight and dieting participants lost approximately 7%. All aspects of insulin secretion improved similarly for both groups and declines in fasting glucose levels were also similar.

One noted difference occurred between the two groups. The gastric bypass patients experienced an increase in certain hormones, but the dieters did not.

The ultimate conclusion by researchers after comparing the two groups was that gastric bypass, which imposes low calorie eating, and adhering to a very low calorie diet without surgery, produced similar health improvements related to diabetes, at least in the short-term.

How Does the Research Help the Average Diabetic?

Weight loss surgery is a significant commitment. It can be expensive, it poses risks, and it results in a drastic, life-long change. As such, it is not the right option for all people. However, it is an effective way to impose restrictive eating that can improve health.

It is possible to commit to a very low calorie eating plan without undergoing surgery. Researchers even point out that long-term very low calorie eating might not be necessary to reverse diabetes. And again, very low calorie eating long-term can be dangerous.

Roy Taylor, MD, a doctor participating in the original study points out, We used the 600-calorie diet to test a hypothesis. What I can tell you definitively is that if people lose substantial weight by normal means, they will lose their diabetes.

Researchers are still looking at whether the effects of short-term calorie restriction can help diabetics permanently reverse their disease. They are also eager to find more practical ways that severe calorie restriction to reduce fat levels in the pancreas.