Weight loss immediately after diagnosis is the most effective way to send type 2 diabetes into remission, new research has found.
Patients who shed 10% or more of their body weight in the first five years have the highest chance of setting themselves on the road to recovery, a study by the University of Cambridge found.
Obesity is the biggest risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes and the disease affects around 400 million people worldwide, with around 3.8 million cases in the UK.
It puts sufferers at risk of heart disease, stroke, blindness and amputations, but can be managed long term through lifestyle changes and medication.
It is also possible for sufferers to return their blood glucose levels to normal through drastic calorie restriction and weight loss.
A diet of just 700 calories a day – less than one cheeseburger – for eight weeks has been associated with remission in nine out of 10 newly diagnosed cases.
The same diet is associated with remission in half of long-term diabetes sufferers.
But the new study found relatively modest but swift weight loss – as soon as the diagnosis is received – is also very effective at tackling the disease.
A study of 867 people between the age of 40 and 69 with newly-diagnosed diabetes found that 257 were in remission at a five-year follow up.
Those who managed 10% weight loss in this period were more than twice as likely to go into remission, the research found, compared to those that stayed the same weight.
One of the report’s authors, Dr Hajira Dambha-Miller, of Cambridge’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care, said: “We’ve known for some time now that it’s possible to send diabetes into remission using fairly drastic measures such as intensive weight loss programmes and extreme calorie restriction.”
“These interventions can be very challenging to individuals and difficult to achieve.
“But, our results suggest that it may be possible to get rid of diabetes, for at least five years, with a more modest weight loss of 10%.
“This will be more motivating and hence more achievable for many people.”
Professor Simon Griffin, of the university’s MRC Epidemiology Unit, added: “This reinforces the importance of managing one’s weight, which can be achieved through changes in diet and increasing physical activity.
“Type 2 diabetes, while a chronic disease, can lead to significant complications, but as our study shows, can be controlled and even reversed.”
The research was funded by research charity Wellcome, the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research.
The team are now working on a second study to understand how best to help those with type 2 diabetes achieve and maintain weight loss.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: “The rising number of people with type 2 diabetes is worrying for the nation’s overall health, as well as putting avoidable pressure on the NHS with a heavy cost for taxpayers.
“The NHS Long Term Plan will see the diabetes prevention programme expand to help 200,000 people a year who are at risk of developing type 2 avoid it and trial very low calorie diets which can put the condition into remission.”