Diets that promise successful weight loss get a lot of buzz. So it stands to reason that any diet that promises to reverse your diabetes, promote weight loss, and lower your blood sugar enough so you might get off your meds, is no doubt going to generate even more attention.
That’s certainly the case with the ketogenic diet—a very low-carb meal plan—based on the findings of two recently published studies.1,2 Dr. Saslow and her team report that the individuals with type 2 diabetes who followed the keto diet lost significantly more weight than those on the low-fat diet espoused by the American Diabetic Association.1 These dieters also were able to get their hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) below 6.5%, suggesting that some may have reversed their type 2 diabetes.1
In a second study,2 a Harvard-led research team evaluated the benefit of a ketogenic diet in both children and adults with type 1 diabetes despite concerns about a possible negative effect on growth and development in children following such a restricted diet. These researchers report “exceptional” glucose control with little adverse effects. However, the participants were recruited from a closed Facebook group, TypeOneGrit, for people who follow a diet and diabetes program based on the recommendations in the Diabetes Solution,3 a book by Richard K Bernstein, MD, who devised this program to manage his own type 1 diabetes.
Too good to be true? Many experts are pushing back and raising questions about whether the keto diet itself is responsible for the improvement in weight and blood sugar or maybe the dieters’ successes are due to other components of the research methods, such as lifestyle differences or physiological changes.
And, it’s important to recognize that both study teams acknowledge that as exciting as their findings seem, a large, randomized controlled trial is still needed to more closely assess a variety of components that may be contributing to the successes found in both studies before the findings can be recommended to anyone outside the study groups1,2 he says.
“We recommend against ‘dieting’, which is invariably a short-term solution,” Dr. Gonzalez-Campoy, tells EndocrineWeb, “and since weight loss may be accomplished by a reduction in calories by any means, a ketogenic diet that restricts carbs is simply shifting the calories away from foods that typically demand insulin as in both of these studies.1,2
Instead, the recommendations for diabetes and weight management, he says, are:
- control portions
- emphasize freshness—fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and water—with each meal
As both study groups acknowledge, additional research is needed to tease out any and all of the factors that may be producing the weight loss and decrease in HbA1c, says Dr. Gonzalez-Campoy, for example there may be other mechanisms of action that are helping these individuals to achieve weight loss, including changes in the gut microbiome, increased insulin sensitivity, enhanced leptin response, and decreased ghrelin levels, each of which contribute to weight loss.
The study deficiencies reinforce the need to avoid encouraging the concept of a “diet” for long-term management of chronic diseases such as diabetes since there are many factors involved in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and parameters like serum glucose, HbA1c, and blood lipids, Dr. Gonzalez-Campoy says.
For those who want to follow a ketogenic-type diet, Dr. Reynolds says it is important to first talk to your doctor and to discuss your goals so you can be sure that this approach is suitable for you given your medical and health history. Ongoing monitoring is needed if you do decide to adopt this very carb approach to eating. Seeing your doctor regularly is important to make sure that your blood pressure, lipids, blood sugar, mood, and medications are within normal ranges as you lose weight. Adjustments are likely going to be necessary from time to time.