A man diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a decade ago has told how he reversed the condition — by adopting a radical NHS diet.
Kieran Ball, from Morpeth in Northumberland, started a four-month soup and shake scheme a year after getting diagnosed. Medics warned he was on a ‘slippery slope’ and ‘walking into all sorts of health problems’.
The 47-year-old, who has since lost a total of 3½ stone, put his type 2 diabetes into remission within just one year of starting the trial.
He had to ditch the sweet treats for a low-calorie diet which saw him abandon sugar pastries for litres of water and a 212-calorie shake every four hours.
The father-of-two has been in remission for eight years and no longer needs to take any diabetes medication.
He is one of the around a dozen patients who have reversed their condition through the landmark trial.
Kieran Ball, 47, of Morpeth in Northumberland, started the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial in 2014 and has been in remission for eight years
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin, or if the insulin it makes doesn’t work properly — leading to high blood sugar levels.
It affects roughly 4.5million people in Britain and 37million in the US. Although heavily driven by obesity, roughly 15 per cent of all sufferers are of ‘normal weight’.
Leading charities have warned that rates will skyrocket in the coming years. The NHS already spends £10billion a year treating diabetes — around a tenth of its budget.
In a bid to get a grip on the epidemic, researchers at Newcastle and Glasgow universities, backed by Diabetes UK, launched the DiRECT trial six years ago.
It involved recruiting sufferers to follow a 12-week to 20-week low-calorie soup and shake diet, which involved consuming only around 800 calories a day.
WHAT IS TYPE 2 DIABETES?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition which causes a person’s blood sugar to get too high.
More than 4million people in the UK are thought to have some form of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight and you may be more likely to get it if it’s in the family.
The condition means the body does not react properly to insulin – the hormone which controls absorption of sugar into the blood – and cannot properly regulate sugar glucose levels in the blood.
Excess fat in the liver increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as the buildup makes it harder to control glucose levels, and also makes the body more resistant to insulin.
Weight loss is the key to reducing liver fat and getting symptoms under control.
Symptoms include tiredness, feeling thirsty, and frequent urination.
It can lead to more serious problems with nerves, vision and the heart.
Treatment usually involves changing your diet and lifestyle, but more serious cases may require medication.
Mr Ball was one of those included in the trial, which he says has been ‘100 per cent life-changing’.
He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in September 2013, after it was detected through a blood test he had while in hospital with kidney stones.
He said he felt ‘shocked and numb’ after his diagnosis.
While Mr Ball was told to manage the condition by changing his diet and getting more active, he said he had ‘lived on fizzy pop and junk food for years’ and his only exercise was occasionally running around the garden with his children.
‘I soon lost motivation and needed something drastic to pull me out,’ he said.
But the following year, his diabetes nurse informed him of the DiRECT trial diet plan, which Mr Ball said ‘sounded horrible’ but was a chance to ‘reset my life and health’.
He was inspired to drop the pounds after his wife, Susan, turned to exercise to shift the scales.
And after looking at his children, Warren and Connor, he knew it was time to do something to stop feeling drained all the time and lose some weight.
He started the trial in September 2014, which involved replacing all ‘normal food’ in his diet with the low-calorie meal replacements for 16 weeks.
Mr Ball said: ‘The first 7 weeks were horrendous.
‘I slept an awful lot and separated myself from my family when they ate. Then my body just kicked into gear and I saw the benefits, which changed my mindset.’
The diet was made even harder due to his job as an area manager, which involved taste testing in kitchens, restaurants and pubs — meaning he was surrounded by food all day.
By the end of the four-month diet, Mr Ball had lost 3st and 7lbs (22kg).
And one year later, his blood sugar levels were in the normal range and researchers confirmed his diabetes was in remission.
The landmark trial was the first to show that remission from type 2 diabetes is possible through a dietary intervention in primary care, with almost half (46 per cent) of people in remission at one year, and 36 per cent at two years.
Reflecting on the study, he said: ‘Those few months on the low-calorie diet were hard, but I’d do it again no question.
‘DiRECT was an opportunity to reboot the way I was living, and I’m so grateful for what being healthy has given me the opportunity to do.’
Mr Ball was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in September 2013, after it was detected through a blood test he had while in hospital with kidney stones. Pictured: Nurse giving a patient a diabetes test
In an extension to the study, 95 participants — around half of whom were already in remission — received support to maintain their weight loss over three years.
They received nurse or dietitian appointments at their GP surgery every three months to review their weight, blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and were offered advice and support to maintain their weight loss.
Mr Ball said he was ‘really happy to’ take part in the next three years of the study.
He said: ‘I just carried on living the way I had been and if I could provide the researchers with more data to track if I could stay in remission for the long-term, then great.’
Results from that trial, released yesterday, revealed that participants lost 6.1kg (13.4lbs) over the five-year study and a quarter remained in remission.
Mr Ball said his weight has increased slightly. But he is still in remission eight years later and is ‘no where near where I was’.
He said: ‘It’s amazing that what I went through all those years ago is still benefiting me today.
‘I’m still in remission and not on any diabetes medication – I can’t quite believe how long it’s been.’
Mr Ball added: ‘It has completely changed the way I think and eat. I don’t deny myself, but I listen to my body now. If it tells me that I’m feeling full, I do something about it, I don’t plough on regardless.
‘The study has been positive for my family too. By supporting me they’re healthier because of the changes we made in the house, so there are these ripple effects.’
Researchers say the latest study results provide further evidence that lifestyle changes, rather than medication, can help beat the disease, described last week as a ‘rapidly escalating crisis’ in the UK.
They believe losing weight and keeping it off is key to curing the serious condition, which has spiralled alongside obesity rates over the last decade.
More than 2,000 people have started treatment on NHS England’s low-calorie diet programme, offered at around half of health boards in England.
The full expansion of the scheme is expected to be completed by next March, with doctors hopeful it will save tens of thousands from developing the condition each year.
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK which funded the study, said the new findings confirm that it is possible to stay in remission long-term.
She said: ‘For those who put type 2 diabetes into remission, it can be life-changing, offering a better chance of a healthier future.
‘For those that aren’t able to go into remission, losing weight can still lead to major health benefits, including improved blood sugar levels, and reduced risk of serious diabetes complications such as heart attack and stroke.’