If you had Type 2 Diabetes, and you knew that living on 600 calories per day for eight weeks would cure it, would you try it?
For me, the question seems like a no-brainer—but, apparently, not everyone feels the same way. The headline for this L.A. Times article on the subject—’British researchers develop “cure” for Type 2 diabetes: Starve yourself’—frames the whole business as preposterous, from the scare quotes around “cure” to equating a few weeks of calorie restriction to starvation (no, eight weeks on 600 calories a day will not be entirely pleasant, but it does not, especially for folks severely overweight to start with, especially eating a balanced diet, amount to starvation).
Type 2 diabetes—in contrast to Type 1 diabetes, which is usually developed in childhood and is independent of lifestyle factors—is usually developed later in life, and most often due to poor nutrition and lifestyle. Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about two to four times higher than adults without diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. It’s also implicated in high blood pressure, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease and the need for limb amputation and, the ADA reports, “average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.”
In the British study, 11 patients who had developed diabetes later in life and averaged 220 pounds were put on a doctor-supervised 600-calorie-per-day diet (which included “a special diet drink and non-starch vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus and cabbage) for eight weeks. After one week on the diet, patients’ fasting blood sugar had returned to normal and after eight weeks, they showed no signs of diabetes. After three months of returning to a normal diet, seven remained completely free of the disease.
“We used the 600-calorie diet to test a hypothesis,” the study’s researcher said. “What I can tell you definitively is that if people lose substantial weight by normal means, they will lose their diabetes.”
This is one of those areas where I have unpopular opinions, I’m aware; I’ve been accused of being harsh on the subject of Type 2 diabetes before. But to me, having Type 2 diabetes is akin to health complications from smoking. In both instances, people bring these health complications on themselves by poor lifestyle choices. Only in the case of Type 2 diabetes (unlike, say, lung cancer), patients have the power to reverse their illness once it develops. Yet we live in a society where people would rather take a pill for the rest of their lives, shoot up with insulin, suffer a whole range of debilitating health effects rather than simply change their diets and habits? It seems ludicrous to me.
Look, I’ve smoked on and off for 10 years. Mostly I haven’t tried to quit, but in the past two years I have, and hopefully I’ll be quitting once and for all soon. Should I, regardless, develop some sort of smoking-related disease, I know that I have no one but myself to blame. We have a tendency to demonize smokers for bringing their health problems on themselves — why not the same when it comes to overweight patients with Type 2 diabetes? And does it really seem so absurd to undergo eight weeks of non-optimal dietary restrictions for an upcoming lifetime free of diabetes?