I was a fit 59-year-old and had just had an annual health check at my GP surgery. This revealed I had high blood sugar — 9millimoles per litre, whereas a normal level is 4-6mmol/l — and my doctor suggested I could have diabetes.
Further tests confirmed that, yes, I was type 2 diabetic. I was stunned. I have always been a healthy weight (I am 5ft 7in and just 10st 7lb), had no family history of diabetes, ate a healthy diet, never smoked, and I definitely did not have a sweet tooth.
Determined to find a solution, I began researching the condition and how to beat it.
In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to keep glucose levels normal (in type 1, the pancreas stops producing insulin altogether), and if I didn’t take action, I would be 36 per cent more likely to die early and could suffer bad sight, poor kidneys, heart failure and strokes. I’d also eventually be on medication.
My GP said that my diabetes was mild enough to be controlled through diet alone, and gave me a wad of leaflets on nutrition for diabetics. I took up salads, cut down on carbohydrates and ate my five-a-day — but progress was slow. Over seven months I shed a stone but my blood sugar was still too high — around 7mmol/l.
Not satisfied with this, further internet research threw up a more drastic approach. Scientists at Newcastle University had devised a radical low-calorie diet that studies suggested could reverse diabetes in under eight weeks.
This involved eating just 800 calories a day (a man’s recommended intake is 2,500) — 600 calories from meal replacement shakes and soups and 200 calories from green vegetables. You also drink three litres of water a day.
The theory behind the diet, which is the brainchild of Roy Taylor, professor of medicine and metabolism at Newcastle University, is based on the fact that type 2 diabetes is often caused by fat clogging up the liver and pancreas, which are crucial in producing insulin and controlling blood sugar.
This is why weight gain is such a risk factor for the condition, particularly if that weight is carried around the belly and abdomen. However, there are some unfortunate people like myself who seem to be disposed to accumulating fat in the liver and pancreas, despite being a healthy weight.
Professor Taylor’s studies have shown that drastic dieting causes the body to go into starvation mode and burn fat stores for energy — and the fat around the organs seems to be targeted first.
This leads to the liver and pancreas becoming unclogged, and insulin and blood sugar levels returning to normal.
One study by Taylor’s team, published in 2011 in the journal Diabetologia, found that out of 11 type-2 diabetics following the diet, all reversed their diabetes in under eight weeks.
Further studies revealed that type 2 diabetics needed to lose one-sixth of their pre-diagnosis body weight to remove enough fat from the pancreas to allow normal insulin production to resume.