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‘I've put my diabetes into remission by losing seven stone – now I don't need to take medication that made me ill'

The i logo The i 15/05/2019 Claudia Tanner

Female bare feet with weight scale in the bathroom © Getty Female bare feet with weight scale in the bathroom Type 2 diabetes can cause excessive thirst, the need to urinate a lot and tiredness.

But when Vicki Turner was diagnosed with the common condition at 54, she had no noticeable symptoms. Her GP discovered she had type 2 diabetes through a routine blood test.

The retired university manager had always struggled with her weight, and was at her heaviest at 16 stone 10 Ibs - a size 18-20 dress - when she was diagnosed.

"My mother was very overweight and had type 2 diabetes so a family history increased my risk," she told i. "My diagnosis was something of a surprise although not a complete shock as my weight had crept up over the years."

The diabetes epidemic has hit record levels, with nearly five million Britons - and one in ten over-40s - thought to have it. Around 90 per cent have type 2, which is linked to poor diet and lack of exercise.

a person holding a sign © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness and increases the chance of developing heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. It brings a 20-fold increased risk of having all or part of a limb amputated.

For decades, type 2 diabetes was thought of as an incurable, chronic, progressive disease. Yet experts say it's possible to put it into remission, which is when a person's blood sugar levels are below the diabetic range and they don’t need to take medication for the disease anymore.

Vicki struggled to lose weight for seven years following her diagnosis, and was taking Metformin, which lowers blood sugar levels, but this was causing her severe diarrhoea.

"I could barely leave the house it was that bad," she said.

Her doctor referred her to Weight Watchers, now renamed WW, which is one of NHS England's official providers of its Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP).  She lost nearly seven stone by dieting and has been able to come off her diabetes medication.

She shed the pounds fairly gradually over a three year period, and has managed to keep her weight off for the last 18 months.

"I'd started to struggle getting up the stairs and became breathless because of my size. I realised things were serious when a doctor suggested a gastric band.

"Now I'm the fittest I've ever been, I have tons more energy and now I have peace of mind that I'm not slowly killing myself."

Gallery: 40 Nutrition Experts Told Us The Foods You Should Be Eating Every Day [Eat This, Not That!]

Extreme diets

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body loses the ability to produce enough insulin – the hormone which controls absorption of sugar into the blood – and it is largely preventable through lifestyle changes.

Scientists believe that storing too much fat in the liver and pancreas affects how the condition develops and losing this fat can help put it into remission.

There are three evidence-based methods for achieving this, according to experts: a low carbohydrate lifestyle, a low calorie diet and bariatric surgery.

A study by Newcastle University found a very low calorie diet was an "extremely effective" way of helping people with type 2 diabetes control their blood glucose levels.

Indeed, a "very low calorie diet" is now part of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme. It was revealed last November that up to 5,000 diabetes patients were to be prescribed a liquid diet of just over 800 calories a day for three months in a bid to reverse the condition.

But others argue extreme diets, such as a liquid diet and the 600 calorie programme studied in Newcastle, are not sustainable and hamper patients' chances of making permanent lifestyle changes.

WW uses a PointsPlus system, so there isn't a sole focus on calories, but it's designed to provide at least 1,200 calories a day.

Last month, it was announced the popular programme can be prescribed by GPs. Those referred by their doctor or nurse will be able to access to the full range of WW tools, including coaching and workshops, face-to-face meetings, recipe ideas and activity and wellness inspiration, as well as support on the WW app.

'I never feel denied'

© Getty Vicki, from North Buckinghamshire, says WW works for her because no food is "banned".

"My weight has fluctuated up and down in the past and when I feel denied I find it hard to stick to a 'diet'", she said.

"With WW, I will have a piece of cake if I fancy but then just go easy the rest of the day.

"They are really just small changes I've made but ones I've stuck to consistently. I'm never going to be a gym bunny but I walk two miles a day. I park my car further from the shops to make myself walk further and I take the stairs instead of the lift.

"For me the support from meeting weekly is key, I struggled before on my own. I feel it's important I go every week still even though I'm at goal to stay on track.

"Not only have I put my diabetes into remission, but I had high cholesterol and blood pressure and they're now in the normal range."

Because diabetes is a progressive disease, Vicki may have eventually required insulin injections to compensate for declining insulin production by her pancreas – which she hopes she can now avoid.

Vicki feels her new lifestyle is sustainable (Photo: Vicki Turner)

According to Diabetes UK, the term "remission" is preferred over "reversal" or "cure" because type 2 diabetes could possibly reoccur if a healthy lifestyle is not maintained in the long term.

The charity states on its website: "We use the term remission because Type 2 diabetes might come back – we don’t know if it’s permanent.

"We also don’t know enough about how being in remission affects your risk of developing serious complications, like heart disease, foot disease or sight loss. So it’s really important that people in remission keep getting regular check-ups, like eye screening."

What is the diabetes DiRECT trial?

© Getty The latest findings from the Diabetes UK-funded DiRECT (DIabetes REmission Clinical) trial revealed almost half of those who went on a very low-calorie diet achieved remission of their type 2 diabetes after a year.

A quarter of participants achieved 15kg or more weight loss, and 86 per cent of those where able to put their type 2 diabetes into remission.

“The first-year results of Diabetes UK DiRECT study showed that – for some people with type 2 diabetes – an intensive, low-calorie weight loss programme delivered with ongoing support through primary care could put their condition into remission,” said Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK.

“While this groundbreaking study continues to explore how long-lasting these benefits are, we are delighted that NHS England have been inspired by this work to pilot a type 2 remission programme through the NHS.

“Plans to double the size of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme [to treat around 200,000 patients a year] are excellent news.

“The programme is already the largest of its kind globally, and shows England to be a world leader in this area."

MSN UK are Empowering Happiness for mental health awareness month. Find out more about our campaign and the charities working to stop people falling into crisis here.

Gallery: 50 Best Foods for Diabetes [Eat This, Not That!]

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