Adelaide researchers have developed a diet and exercise program which has proven to be highly effective in reducing the burden of type 2 diabetes, with an average 40 per cent reduction in medication levels.
The diet incorporates an eating pattern that is very low in carbohydrates and higher in protein and unsaturated fats.
The program is based on the findings from a $1.3 million National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) funded study, which compared the low carbohydrate eating pattern with the current best practice approach of managing type 2 diabetes with a high-unrefined carbohydrate, low fat diet.
“The research results are ground breaking,” Associate Professor Grant Brinkworth, principal research scientist at the CSIRO said.
“Health professionals have been divided over the best dietary approach for managing type 2 diabetes, and the ongoing uncertainty is a hotly debated topic amongst clinicians and researchers.
“The most amazing benefit of the low carbohydrate diet was the reduction in the patient’s medication levels, which was more than double the amount than the volunteers following the lifestyle program with the high-carbohydrate diet plan.
“Some of the participants managed to cease their medications altogether, and many described the study as life changing.
“This research shows that traditional dietary approaches for managing type 2 diabetes could be outdated, we really need to review the current dietary guidelines if we are serious about using the latest scientific evidence to reduce the impact of the disease.”
The two year research intervention was a collaboration between CSIRO, Adelaide University, Flinders University and the University of South Australia, with the exercise program delivered in partnership with community fitness centres.
Medication requirements were also monitored and supervised with appropriate oversight from physicians.
Professor Campbell Thompson from the University of Adelaide said there were further insights on the clinical outcomes.
“The very low carbohydrate diet presented greater improvements in the blood cholesterol profile, by increasing the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol and decreasing triglyceride levels to a greater extent than the traditional high carbohydrate, low fat diet approach,” Professor Thompson said.
“Both diets achieved similar reductions in bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, often a concern with some low carbohydrate diets.
“The variability of blood glucose levels throughout the day is also emerging as a strong independent risk factor for diabetes complications. In our study the very low carbohydrate diet was more effective in reducing the number and levels of blood glucose spikes and dips, flattening the blood glucose profile over a 24-hour period.”
Type 2 diabetes is one of the greatest global health challenges of the 21st century, with more than 350 million people suffering from the condition.
Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes and given the growing increases in obesity and sedentary lifestyles globally, the world is facing a veritable tsunami of the disease.
In Australia alone, an estimated 800,000 Australian adults have type 2 diabetes with many more undiagnosed. In 2008-09, of the estimated $1507 million spent on the health care of diabetes in Australia, $490 million was spent on diabetes-related medications.
Based on the findings from this study, implementing a lifestyle program that incorporates this effective eating pattern at a national level could save up to $200 million annually through reductions in diabetes-related medication expenditure alone.