Diabetes is an extremely common health problem and for the US, it is the most expensive problem too as it is affecting a sky-high number of veterans. US government is trying to find a solution to cut the expenditures and find an alternative to conventional diabetes type 2 treatment. So far, they have come with treating diabetes with a popular weight-loss tool called the keto diet.
The trials for testing the keto diet against diabetes have started as a partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and a digital therapeutics startup named “Virta Health”. The plan is to find a way to treat diabetes by giving a low-carb and high-fat keto diet to the veterans.
The partnership was first announced in May 2019, and at that time it enrolled nearly 400 veterans through Virta. This program contains both customized diet plans and direct online access for all participants which connects them to health coaches and medical experts.
The data from the company has revealed satisfactory results until now. The pilot study plan tells that more than half of the subjects in this study were able to achieve a higher blood sugar level which was below the threshold for diabetic risk after completing three months with Virta. This plan reduced their medicinal and insulin use by 53% which was common for all study participants.
On the other side, some experts are uncertain about the long term results of following a keto diet to treat diabetes type 2. They say that following this type of strategy would not be a permanent cure. Before collaborating with VA, Virta was evaluating a keto diet to be a potential diabetes type 2 treatment for more than two years.
Typically, diabetes shows a disturbed blood sugar and limiting the carbohydrate intake would somehow manage the problem as it prevents the blood sugar to spike.
Dr. Sarah Hallberg is the medical director at Virta, she says that the use of insulin could mitigate diabetes as it controls the blood sugar level without using the typical medicines. Carbohydrates in diet cause an increase in blood sugar but if these are replaced with fats based it would not do the same. So a diabetic person can regulate blood sugar without compromising the daily calorie intake or need of insulin.
Hallberg said; “Standard treatment puts people on a one-way street of progression for diabetes, with temporary pharmaceutical treatment that will have to be added on to.
He further added that “We’re able to give people another lane going the other way by bringing blood sugar into non-diabetic range while reducing and eliminating medication.”
But it absolutely doesn’t mean that a keto diet can permanently cure diabetes type 2. Virta calls this program as a “diabetes reversal” help. In common words, it means it doesn’t actually treat it but only remits it and this continues to be as long as the patient is following a keto diet. When he starts eating carbohydrates again, his problems with high blood sugar and hence insulin dependence starts again.
A keto diet puts the body through ketosis by using fat as a primary source of energy instead of carbohydrates. Diabetic people would increase their carbohydrate intake to as low as 30mg and their blood sugar would never see a rise.
But a long term keto use may end with long term side effects. Critics argue that most of the data that supports using the keto diet for diabetic control is studied by Virta itself. Other sources telling the same are barely there and hence any data on studying keto diet for treating diabetes is highly doubtful.