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2021 in review: 15 important diabetes science stories

Let’s face it, 2021 wasn’t the best year in history, but it was undoubtedly the year that put science in the spotlight. Between billionaires battling it out for the great space race, a global pandemic and international agreement that type 2 diabetes remission is possible, you probably didn’t have much time left to absorb all of the other diabetes news stories that came out this year.

Luckily for you, our incredible team of low carb doctors and dietitians always have an eye out for the latest science on all things type 2 diabetes and low carb. Because of this, we’re able to respond quickly to emerging diabetes-related science, keeping you up to speed on the latest gold-standard data and information to transform your health.

Now, let’s get you caught up. Here are 10 important diabetes science stories you may have missed in 2021.

1. Nothing scary about dairy

Full fat dairy products have gotten a bad wrap over the years. Many people think full fat should be avoided because of its high saturated fat content, but that’s not the case, and we’ve got more evidence to prove it. A study from an international team examined the dietary fat intake of 4,150 60-year olds, and over the 16-year study, they found that a diet rich in full fat dairy may lower the risk of heart disease. Now that’s gouda news for you cheese lovers!

2. Can a ketogenic diet help chronic pain?

There’s great news for those who live with chronic pain. Researchers from The University of Sydney recruited patients who live with chronic pain for a 12-week study removing ultra-processed foods from their diets. Those who followed a ketogenic diet reported a significant reduction in reported pain, inflammation and weight, as well as improved quality of life and mood, and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety for participants undertaking a ketogenic diet.

Does this study interest you? Check out Dr Brukner’s recent interview with the researchers.

3. A low carb diet won’t harm your kidneys

Leading low carb advocate and UK GP, Dr David Unwin, has been advising his type 2 diabetes patients to follow a low carb diet since 2013. Dr Unwin teamed up with a nephrology professor and dietitian and set out to discover whether a low carb diet changed kidney function in people with type 2 diabetes. Participants followed a low carb diet for more than two years. Instead of the expected deterioration in kidney function, they found quite the opposite – the majority of the participants improved their kidney health!

4. Can Alzheimer’s be prevented with a keto diet?

After years of research and medication trials, the general consensus is that Alzheimer’s is incurable. However, Dr Matthew Phillips, a neurologist and researcher from Waikato Hospital in New Zealand, is on a mission to prove otherwise. His paper discusses the link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s and shows how a ketogenic diet can help to improve quality of life and daily function to the point of clinical significance; these two factors are of great importance to people living with dementia. While there’s more we need to understand about diet and Alzheimer’s, this is the clearest evidence so far of a positive effect of a ketogenic diet in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Watch Defeat Diabetes founder Dr Peter Brukner’s interview with Dr Matthew Phillips.

5. Got milk?

International guidelines recommend children aged 9 months to 2 years drink whole fat cow’s milk, and those older than 2 years drink reduced fat cow’s milk to prevent obesity. However, these guidelines have a low level of evidence. A study in the International Journal of Obesity compared the relationship between milk consumption and BMI. Compared to children who drank reduced fat milk (0.1–2% fat), there was evidence that children who drank whole fat milk had 16% lower odds of being overweight and 18% lower odds of obesity.

6. Pre-diabetes? It’s just type 2 diabetes under a different name.

A recent study suggests that we should lower the diagnostic threshold for type 2 diabetes to include all those with abnormal blood glucose levels, including those we would currently consider having pre-diabetes. Their controversial recommendation follows evidence that recommends earlier intervention to prevent many complications of type 2 diabetes and help more people into remission.

7. Isn’t calories in, calories out the best method for weight loss? Er, not really.

There are two accepted dietary methods of putting type 2 diabetes into remission: carbohydrate restriction (a low carb diet) and a low calorie diet. But which is best?

The two diets differ in how they work. Still, both involve carbohydrate restriction, either as a goal (low carb) or as a result of reducing our energy intake by minimising calories (low calorie). However, recent research into low carb has found that low carb is as effective, or better than, other dietary approaches for type 2 diabetes management and can achieve remission for some people. In addition, the evidence the scientists reviewed didn’t support concerns that low carb increases the risk of heart disease, nutrient deficiencies, or was any more difficult to stick to than other diets.

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8. Move over, meds, there’s a new treatment in town

Scientists examining the link between ketogenic or low carb diets and blood sugar yielded astonishing results. They found after just three weeks that a keto diet could improve HbA1c. They also showed that patients who experienced early weight loss could maintain their new weight long term if they continued to follow low carb. Even more exciting, patients were able to reduce their medications under supervision.

9. Making the goal remission, not medicated management

This review started with the premise that type 2 diabetes remission should be a treatment goal for people with type 2 diabetes (to which we say hear hear!). Researchers saw that weight loss of 15 kg or greater is the primary driver and predictor of remission based on the evidence. In addition, they found that both total dietary replacements (TDR) and low carb diets were effective for weight loss and remission of type 2 diabetes.

However, we should note that evidence of the effectiveness of low carb beyond two years is limited, and longer-term research is needed.

10. It takes a village (pharmacy).

This year, one of our favourite studies looked at how effective a pharmacy-delivered low carb program could be.

Scientists ran a 12-week trial comparing the effects on medication, heart health and quality of life for those with type 2 diabetes following a low carb diet versus treatment-as-usual. Community chemists delivered both approaches.

They found the low carb group could reduce their glucose-lowering meds and body measurements and improve their HbA1c and other biomarkers. This suggests that we could see community chemists as a viable option for administering future low carb approaches, particularly for those taking medication.

11. Cure the pre-cursors.

Fatty liver is often a precursor to type 2 diabetes. So how do we reverse this condition? A recent study showed that weight loss through a low carb, high fat approach, and the 5:2 diet, can be an effective tool to treat fatty liver caused by obesity.

12. It’s time we stopped demonising fat.

Saturated (SFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats remain controversial in nutrition. Some think it’s the root of all evil, others not so much (including Team DD).

Recent research debunks the flimsy evidence that forms the basis of current nutritional guidelines on fat intake. This article looks at the many historical misconceptions about fat and cholesterol. It suggests that dietary saturated fats seem less harmful than the proposed alternatives, such as seed oil.

Take that, margarine.

13. Meat and eggs are bacon the menu.

Red meat, eggs and dairy have copped a bad press in recent years with all sorts of suggested negative consequences. However, this year we have seen several articles putting some of these myths to bed once and for all.

One study which examined the association of eating unprocessed and processed meat with death and heart disease failed to find a significant link between unprocessed red meat and poultry intake. However, eating more processed meat was linked to a higher risk of death and heart disease.

And this research investigated the effects of increasing total red meat intake on blood sugars and inflammation. It found no change in blood sugars or inflammation for adults free of, but at risk for, heart disease.

Finally, scientists found that eating more than one egg per day did not lead to an increased risk of heart disease but was associated with a significantly reduced risk of coronary artery disease. Egg-cellent news all around!

14. We should manage lifestyle-induced diseases through lifestyle changes.

Metabolic syndrome (those conditions which together increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and - yes, you’ve guessed it - type 2 diabetes) might be better treated if viewed as hormonal and physical symptoms of lifestyle-induced disease. So says our favourite neurologist Dr Matthew Phillips. His recent article in ResearchGate identifies dozens of human interventional trials showing fasting and carbohydrate-restricted diets can effectively mitigate metabolic syndrome.

15. Grains, grains, no good for the heart.

Finally, this article from the PURE study confirms our suspicions. It shows that a high intake of refined grains is associated with a higher risk of death and heart disease.

We don’t like to say we told you so, but… we told you so.

🙂

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