Researchers at Newcastle University in the UK, have shown that fat – or triglyceride – accumulation around the pancreas may be the cause of Type 2 diabetes, and losing just one gram of this fat can reverse the disease. Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 500,000 people in the UK, and that number is steadily climbing.
The researchers lead by Professor Roy Taylor, conducted a trial consisting of 18 people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, along with 9 health individuals. The weight, triglyceride levels in the pancreas and insulin response of each of the trial participants were measured before and following bariatric surgery.
The trial participants with Type 2 diabetes had all be diagnosed in the last 15 years, with an average 6.9 years post diagnosis. These patients were found to have higher levels of fat in the pancreas. The results of the study were published in the journal, Diabetes Care.
All of the trial subjects were approved for gastric bypass surgery due to obesity, and following the surgery, patients with Type 2 diabetes were told to discontinue their medication. While both groups of trial participants lost around 13 percent of the initial body weight before the surgery, the levels of pancreatic fat in diabetic patients was reduced to normal levels following the bariatric surgery.
Pancreatic fat remained unchanged in the healthy participants. According to the researchers, the results suggest that the elevated levels of triglycerides in the pancreas are specific to patients with Type 2 diabetes, and may play a key role in preventing normal insulin secretion from the organ.
When the excess fat around the pancreas was removed, insulin production returned to normal effectively curing a patient’s Type 2 diabetes. “For people with Type 2 diabetes, losing weight allows them to drain excess fat out of the pancreas and allows function to return to normal,” said Taylor, who also works with Newcastle Hospitals as a member of the Newcastle Academic Health Partners.
“So if you ask how much weight you need to lose to make your diabetes go away, the answer is one gram,” said 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.”
Taylor and his team noted that patients with Type 2 diabetes saw a 1.2 percent decrease in pancreatic triglycerides over the 8 week study. The researchers accurately measured this using a specially-developed MRI scan. As the average volume of a pancreas in a diabetic patient is 50 ml, approximately 0.6 g of triglycerides were lost leading to the reversal of the disease.
Interestingly, the study also showed that different individuals have varying levels of tolerance for pancreatic triglycerides before Type 2 diabetes is developed. Type 2 diabetes has historically been thought of as a progressive condition which can be controlled by changes to diet at the onset, then may require medication and eventually lead to insulin injections.
“This new research demonstrates that the change in level of fat in the pancreas is related to the presence of Type 2 diabetes in a patient,” said Taylor. “The decrease in pancreas fat is not simply related to the weight loss itself.
“It is not something that might happen to anyone whether or not they had diabetes. It is specific to Type 2 diabetes,” he said. “What is interesting is that regardless of your present body weight and how you lose weight, the critical factor in reversing your Type 2 diabetes is losing that 1 gram of fat from the pancreas.”
- Type 2 diabetes reversed by losing fat from pancreas – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151201141231.htm
- Steven, S., Hollingsworth, K., Small, P., Woodcock, S., Pucci, A., Aribisala, B., Al-Mrabeh, A., Daly, A., Batterham, R., and Taylor, R. (2015). Weight Loss Decreases Excess Pancreatic Triacylglycerol Specifically in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care.