Losing a single gram of fat in the pancreas can reverse Type 2 diabetes

Reducing pancreatic fat can be highly effective in the treatment of diabetes(Credit: Shutterstock)

A new study at Newcastle University in the UK has improved our understanding of Type 2 diabetes, providing a new insight into the positive effects that weight loss can have on sufferers. According to the researchers, reversing the condition can be as simple as losing a single gram of fat in the right place.

Type 2 diabetes affects an estimated 9 percent of the global population. It involves a build up of fat in the pancreas, which stops the organ from producing the required quantity of insulin. While it's already known that weight loss can have a huge positive impact on the condition, new research shows that a certain kind of weight loss is specific to Type 2 sufferers.

The study hinges on a trial involving 18 patients, half who were free from diabetes, and half who were Type 2 diabetes sufferers. The patients with the condition had been living with it for an average of just under seven years.

The researchers used a highly sensitive MRI scan to measure the amount of fat present in each patient's pancreas. At the start of the study, those patients with Type 2 diabetes were found to have elevated levels of pancreatic fat.

All participants underwent gastric bypass surgery, and after eight weeks all had lost the same amount of weight – some 13 percent of their body weight at the start of the study. However, a very important difference was observed as to where in the body the weight was lost. The amount of fat in the pancreas of a diabetes-free participants didn't change, but those diagnosed with the condition observed a 1.2 percent drop in pancreatic fat levels.

The fact that the decrease of fat in the pancreas is not related to general weight loss but is in fact specific to Type 2 diabetes, is an important discovery for treatment of the condition. But what's perhaps most surprising is just how little of the localized fat that sufferers need to shed to reverse the condition.

"So if you ask how much weight you need to lose to make your diabetes go away, the answer is one gram," says study lead Professor Roy Taylor. "But that gram needs to be fat from the pancreas. At present the only way we have to achieve this is by calorie restriction by any means – whether by diet or an operation."

The team published its research online in the journal Diabetes Care.



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