A Low-Carb Diet May Reverse Type 2 Diabetes

2009 Study Suggests Very Low-Carb Diet Helps Diabetes

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Diet plays a big role in managing diabetes. When you have type 2 diabetes, your body has a hard time removing glucose from your bloodstream. Since carbohydrates digest into glucose in your body, it stands to reason that controlling carbohydrate intake is a key part of diabetes management. While a major method of controlling carbohydrates is being consistent with the amount you eat at each meal and snack, some people advocate for eliminating carbohydrates from your diet altogether. 

This article reviews a 2009 study that suggested following an extremely carb-restricted diet was beneficial for people with diabetes.

An Extremely Low-Carb Diet and Diabetes

In this 2009 study out of Duke University, researchers found that a very low-carb diet (20 grams or less a day) gave participants better blood sugar control and more effective weight loss than participants who followed a low-glycemic reduced calorie diet.

An Overview of the Study

Eighty-four people with obesity and type 2 diabetes took part in the study. They were split into two groups: one followed a very carb-restricted diet; the other followed a low-glycemic, reduced-calorie diet. Both groups also had the support of group meetings, nutritional supplementation, and an exercise program.

After 6 months, the low-carb group had lower hemoglobin A1c results, lost more weight, and 95% were able to reduce or even totally eliminate their diabetes medications. The reduced calorie group also lost weight, and 62% of them were also able to reduce or eliminate their medications, but the low-carb diet group had better overall results.

Why the Diet Worked

"It's simple," says Eric Westman, MD, director of Duke's Lifestyle Medicine Program and lead author of the study. "If you cut out the carbohydrates, your blood sugar goes down, and you lose weight which lowers your blood sugar even further. It's a one-two punch."

The low-carb diet used in the study was very restrictive on carb intake, with participants eating less than 20 grams of carbs a day. This may be difficult for many people to stick to, but as Dr. Westman says, "This is a therapeutic diet for people who are sick," says Westman. "These lifestyle approaches all have an intensive behavioral component. In our program, people come in every two weeks to get reinforcements and reminders. We've treated hundreds of patients this way now at Duke, and what we see clinically and in our research shows that it works."

Interpret the Results with Caution

There are nutritional cautions to following a diet that eliminates or sharply curbs the intake of macronutrients – in this case, carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are in many healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. By eliminating these foods from your diet, you could put yourself at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Never undertake a severely restricted diet without the supervision of a registered dietitian and/or physician.

Type 2 Diabetes Doctor Discussion Guide

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Take Home Message

Keep in mind that there is more to these results than just diet. Both groups also exercised regularly as well. Diet combined with exercise is the cornerstone of diabetes management. Before starting any diet program, please talk with your doctor or healthcare provider.

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  1. Westman EC, Yancy WS, Mavropoulos JC, Marquart M, Mcduffie JR. The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008;5:36. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-5-36

  2. Duke Health. Low-carb diets prove better at controlling type 2 diabetes. Updated January 20, 2016.

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