Type 2 diabetes is a significant public health issue worldwide, causing serious health problems, lowering human productivity and leading to considerable economic costs. Sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating habits and obesity are some of the common reasons for type 2 diabetes. Some people with diabetes require either oral or injectable form of medications throughout their life to maintain their blood sugar levels. However, recent research has uncovered that a low carb diet can help in the remission of diabetes without using any medications.
What is diabetes remission?
Diabetes remission refers to the state where the blood sugar levels of a diabetic person are found to be in the normal diabetes range, usually without taking any diabetes medication. Diabetes is considered remitted when the HbA1c (average blood glucose levels over a period of 3 months) stays below 6.5% (48mmol/mol) for at least six months.
Diabetes remission can only be seen in people with type 2 diabetes as people suffering from type 1 diabetes would require islet transplants (cells present in the pancreas that help in the production of insulin) to remit their diabetes. The term remission is used by healthcare experts as diabetes is not known to have a permanent cure.
How can a low-carb diet help in diabetes remission?
Studies have shown that a low carb diet can help in returning the blood glucose levels back to the normal range. Low-carb diet helps in managing weight, improves blood glucose levels and reduces the risk of heart diseases in a short span of time.
A low carb diet is the one where a person consumes less than 130 grams of carbohydrates in a day. In order to reduce the carbohydrate intake:
- Minimize processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, white bread and sugary beverages such as cold drinks, fruit juices and smoothies.
- Choose to have carbs from high-fibre foods such as whole fruits, whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds and green vegetables.
- Add yoghurt and low-fat milk to the diet to maintain the calcium levels in the body.
Low-carb diet along with weight loss for diabetes remission
While consumption of a low carb diet has proven effective in the remission of diabetes, scientists have stressed that it can only prove effective when accompanied by weight loss. The research published in the journal BMJ on 13th January 2020 analysed 23 clinical trials, which involved more than 1,300 people. These people were divided into two groups based on the diet they were provided with - low carb diet and a low-fat diet.
While in some of the trials the carbohydrate intake was restricted to 25% of their daily caloric intake, others reduced it to less than 10% of daily calories. After six months, the results of the study showed that:
- People on a low-carb diet lost about 3.4 Kilograms of weight more than those on other diets.
- Low carb diet also reduced the triglyceride (a type of fat) levels in the body.
- 57% of the people on a low-carb diet had gone into remission, whereas only 31% of the people, out of those on another type of diet, managed to achieve remission.
- However, on following up both the groups after 12 months, diabetes remission diminished in most subjects. It was noticed that remission was prevalent only in people who adhered to the low-carb diet in a sustained manner and lost weight while following it.
- The research concluded that weight loss is extremely important for the improvement of blood sugar levels and to achieve remission from type 2 diabetes.
Weight loss is important because the extra fat in the body can get stored around the vital organs such as the liver and pancreas, restricting the body from utilizing insulin effectively. Studies reveal that losing around 15 kilograms of weight (for people who are overweight) would reduce insulin resistance in the body of diabetics and would help them achieve remission.
Weight loss is an important factor in diabetes remission as earlier studies have also indicated that central obesity (fat deposition in the abdominal region) increases insulin resistance, high glucose levels and hyperinsulinemia in the body. People who take insulin to treat their diabetes must consult their doctor before following a low-carb diet as it may increase their risk of developing hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar). Consumption of fibrous food must be increased as a low-carb diet it may lead to constipation.
A low carbohydrate diet can help a diabetic person lose greater weight in the short term, which ultimately helps in remitting diabetes. However, scientists do not have enough evidence on whether this remission is permanent, and therefore people with diabetes must continue eating a healthy diet and do exercises regularly to maintain a healthy weight.