Thousands of people with Type 2 diabetes are to be prescribed an ultra low calorie liquid diet which could “cure” the disease altogether.
Around 5,000 patients will initially take part in the scheme, which involves consuming only 800 calories a day in the form of fat-free soups and shakes over a period of three months.
NHS guidelines currently recommend a limit of 2,500 calories per day for men, and 2,000 for women.
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But while the diet may sound punishing, its benefits could be very real. Half of the 298 patients who participated the NHS's trial run last year were able to put their diabetes in remission, the BBC reports.
The scheme is part of a 10-year plan to tackle Britain's diabetes crisis, which will reach 200,000 people through projects like one-on-one coaching and free smartwatches.
More and more people are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, in a worrying sign that Britain’s growing obesity crisis is having serious long-term health consequences. The NHS now spends around 10% of its budget on treating the disease.
But what is diabetes – and how can you spot the signs?
What is type 2 diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce sufficient insulin to control the amount of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Patients with type 1 diabetes, which accounts for 10% of cases, cannot produce any insulin. The 90% with type 2 either don’t produce enough or their cells fail to react to it.
Is it common?
Yes and it is growing. Diabetes UK says the disease is “an urgent public health issue”. One person every two minutes is diagnosed with diabetes and almost 3.5 million people in the UK have the disease – more than double the level of 20 years ago.
According to the charity’s analysis, there are more than one million undiagnosed diabetic people currently living in the UK and an additional 12.3 million people at an increased risk of developing type 2.
“Diabetes is the fastest growing health crisis of our time; and the fact that diagnoses have doubled in just 20 years should give all of us serious pause for thought,” said Chris Askew, Diabetes UK’s chief executive.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks and tennis great Billie Jean-King all suffer from type 2, while Prime Minister Theresa May is a type 1 diabetic.
How do you develop diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes usually develops in middle-aged or older people, but there has been a rise among young overweight people. Obesity accounts for 80-85% of the overall risk of developing the disease, Diabetes UK says. Given that six out of ten adults in the UK are now overweight or obese, that’s very bad news.
Deprivation is also a factor. Since poverty levels are strongly associated with higher obesity levels, unhealthy diets and smoking, the poorest fifth of the population is about twice as likely to be diagnosed as the richest fifth.
Your genetic make-up also plays a strong part. South Asians and black people are two to four times more likely to develop it as their caucasian counterparts. People who have sufferers in their family are two to six times more likely.
Why does blood sugar matter?
Insulin is a hormone – it’s often described as a “key” – that allows sugar access to the cells. Without it, your body doesn’t get the energy it needs from the glucose you eat.
It works by storing any excess sugar in your blood in your liver and then releasing the sugar when you need it. The more sugar in your blood, the more insulin your body produces to handle it.
However, diabetes sufferers can’t self-regulate in this way, leaving them at risk of hypoglycaemia (a “hypo”) if their blood sugar levels fall too low, usually because they have taken too much insulin or haven’t eaten enough food. When their blood sugar levels are too high, they can suffer from hyperglycaemia (a “hyper”).
What are the symptoms and how can they be treated?
Overly low levels of blood sugar can make you feel shaky, moody and tired. They can make you sweat, look pale, give you a headache or make you unable to concentrate. If you have a hypo, you need to eat something sugary as soon as possible – fruit juice, non-diet cola, sweets or glucose tablets. Doctors recommend never missing meals, eating enough carbohydrates (especially if you're exercising more than normal) and avoiding drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.
People with exceptionally high levels of blood sugar might have blurred vision or feel fatigued, as well as have an increased thirst or hunger. They might need their insulin dose adjusted, or to eat often while watching their intake of sugar and carbohydrates. They would also need to limit their alcohol consumption. Eating lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains is recommended, as is plenty of exercise to keep levels down.
If diabetes isn’t well-managed, sufferers are at risk of a whole range of nasty complications, including strokes, heart disease and even amputations.
Diabetes UK points out that the disease is more aggressive in young people than in adults, leading to a higher risk of complications developing earlier. These include blindness, amputations, heart disease and kidney failure.
“Type 2 diabetes can be devastating for children and young people,” said Bridget Turner, director of policy and campaigns for the charity.
How do I know if I have diabetes?
If you have any of the above symptoms, go to your GP. Your doctor will check your urine and collect a blood sample to test your blood sugar levels. If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, your GP will prescribe medication, recommend changes to your diet and arrange regular check-ups.
Can I avoid getting it?
The best way to avoid diabetes is to do all the things you know you should be doing anyway, such as exercising, eating healthily, giving up smoking and watching your blood pressure.
“For many children, the development of type 2 diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle changes but this isn’t easy – they need support” says Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
He has called on the government to step up measures that curb TV adverts for junk food and supermarket promotions that encourage binge eating.
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