People with Type 2 diabetes could reverse their condition by sticking to a very low calorie diet, new research claims.
The study shows that by following the eight-week plan the body can produce its own insulin, crucial for diabetics.
Eleven people with diabetes followed a strict diet of liquid drinks and non-starchy vegetables and after just one week their blood sugar levels had returned to normal.
The breakthrough, made by experts at Newcastle University, suggests that a dramatic drop in calories reduces fat in the pancreas and is yet more evidence that fat is a primary cause of the disease.
The findings are consistent with the belief that a lack of insulin secretion – which is vital for blood sugar control – is due to accumulation of fat in the liver and pancreas.
Roy Taylor, of Newcastle University, said: "For many years, it has been assumed that Type 2 diabetes is a life sentence. It's chronic, it's progressive, people need more and more tablets, and eventually they need insulin. It's a downhill slope. However, we have been able to show that it is in fact reversible."
Professor Taylor, who hopes the research will be translated into future treatments, added: "This is a radical change in understanding Type 2 diabetes."
Some 2.5 million people in the UK are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and another 850,000 are thought to have the condition without knowing it.
Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: "We welcome the results of this research because it shows that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed, on a par with successful surgery without the side effects. However, this diet is not an easy fix and Diabetes UK strongly recommends that such a drastic diet should only be undertaken under medical supervision."
Keith Frayn, professor of human metabolism at the University of Oxford, said: "Professor Taylor's study offers great hope for many people with diabetes, although it must be said that not everyone will find it possible to stick to the extremely low calorie diet used in this study."