Yes, you can reverse type 2 diabetes if you starve yourself. In fact, a medically supervised water-only fast can be a useful way to manage many different kinds of diet-related diseases. Fortunately, you do not have to starve yourself to reverse your type 2 diabetes. Instead, you could simply eat a low-fat, plant-based diet—like the populations that don’t get type 2 diabetes to begin with.
In June of 2011, some researchers from Britain published the results of a trial in which people with type 2 diabetes who went on a starvation diet (600 calories per day) ended up with normal fasting blood sugar levels. To me, that is not news. By 1841, a French pharmacist named Apollinaire Bauchardat was recommending that patients with what we now call type 2 diabetes should eat as little as possible and that they should fast occasionally to bring down their blood sugar. Since then, however, diabetes researchers have learned that it’s possible to reverse type 2 diabetes without such severe calorie restriction. In fact, I think that it’s better to teach people the diet that will enable them to cure their type 2 diabetes within a couple of weeks without limiting their food intake than to set them on a course of yo-yo dieting and possible eating disorders.
Bouchardat was one of the first clinicians to put patients in charge of monitoring their own diabetes. At first, his patients did this by keeping track of what they ate and tasting their urine to see how sweet it became. Later, Bauchardat worked out a chemical test to detect sugar in urine. From monitoring the sugar content of the urine, Bauchardat showed that when people with diabetes ate sugars or starches, large amounts of sugar passed into their urine. The sugar in the urine reflected high blood glucose levels. However, the problem in type 2 diabetes is not that the person is eating carbohydrates, it’s that the body has become resistant to the hormone insulin.
Starting in the 1930s, scientists started to realize that fatty diets made the body less sensitive to insulin, and that this insulin insensitivity was the underlying cause of the high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. People who went on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet rapidly became more responsive to insulin.
Starting in the 1940s, Dr. Walter Kempner at Duke University reported astonishing success in reversing type 2 diabetes and diabetic complications with a diet based entirely on rice and fruit. Patients who found that they were losing too much weight on that low-fat diet were encouraged to add pure white sugar to get more calories. In Kempner’s report of 100 patients with diabetes who were fed his high-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-protein diet, most of the patients decreased their insulin doses and many discontinued taking insulin. (It’s likely that some of the patients had type 1 diabetes and therefore would need to keep taking insulin for the rest of their lives.)
The American Diabetes Association currently recommends that people with type 2 diabetes eat limited portions of foods from all of the four food groups. In 2006, however, a clinical trial showed that the people who were randomly assigned to eat as much as they liked of low-fat, unrefined plant foods (75% carbohydrate by calorie) found it easier to stick to their diet, lost more weight, and made faster progress in reversing their diabetes than did the people who were randomly assigned to follow the ADA’s recommendations.
Note: In my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2, I explain the relationship between body weight and blood sugar. French doctors have always used the term fat diabetes (diabètes maigre) to refer to the relative mild form of diabetes that occurs in people who are at least a little bit overweight and that goes away if they lose weight. Fat diabetes is the body’s way to avoid storing too much of the fat from a fatty diet. If you have fat diabetes, it means that you are a naturally thin person. It means that your body is willing to sacrifice everything—your feet, your eyesight, your kidneys, and even your life—to keep you from gaining any more weight. The solution to this problem is to switch to a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet. This diet reverses type 2 diabetes and is also good for people with thin diabetes (type 1 diabetes).