On the Front Line: Message of hope about crucial common illness we can cure
In my last few columns I have considered some nuanced topics around vaccines and equity. This week has some overlap but it is much bolder!
I was thinking about what I could share that might come as a big surprise. Here it is. I am confident we could fully reverse Type 2 diabetes (T2D) in nearly everyone.
I was on a webinar this week with healthcare professionals from around the country. Our new confidence with Zoom means 200 GPs, diabetes specialists, dieticians, nurses and others with an interest in T2D can join minds at the push of a button.
We used to think that type 2 diabetes was irreversible, a condition for life, requiring medication for life. But on that call this week I was hearing stories over and over again of groups that are curing people of T2D. This means bringing their sugar levels back to normal without the need for medication.
One practice in Southport has managed to cure half the patients that have engaged with them to reverse the condition, with nearly all much better. Now many sites across the country are replicating these results. It really is a revolution in T2D management.
We have literally seen an explosion of T2D (and it’s really important to distinguish type 2 from type 1 diabetes as they are totally different diseases). In the last 25 years the rate of T2D has doubled in the UK, with 1 in 10 people over 40 now living with the condition. Pre-1960s it was a rare condition.
Put simply, T2D is a condition where the body stops being able to safely manage the levels of sugar in the blood stream. The usual system of body chemicals that control sugar (mostly insulin) can’t keep u, and high sugar levels cause serious damage to many parts of the body.
The failure of our insulin system is either because there is too much sugar coming in, or our insulin is not working properly, ‘insulin resistance’.
How to do it is not easy. It usually involves understanding where the sugar comes from in the diet and reducing it, supported by losing weight.
Many people don’t appreciate the starches in the diet – flour, potatoes, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals - are just long chains of sugars ‘holding hands’.
Ironically it seems that these ‘carbs’ in our diet drive weight gain more than the fat we have been demonising for decades.
It does require an individual approach. There is no one size fits all. It is certainly important not to blame the person.
The knowledge base is reasonably simple but the changes are complicated by our environment and other demands on our lifestyle. The right information and support really is essential. But the new message for T2D is one of hope.
*Dr Ollie Hart is a GP and director of Heeley-Plus Primary Care Network
In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor