It’s 10 years since Professor Roy Taylor revolutionized treatment for type 2 diabetes with a groundbreaking study that showed the disease could be reversed through rapid weight loss. Until his research was published, type 2 diabetes was thought to be an incurable, lifelong condition. Now, for many people, we know it is not.
But his achievements – and the thousands of people he has cured – are not something he dwells upon. “I’m in a very lucky position of being able to do this research,” he says, “which really extends what I’ve been doing as a doctor throughout my life.” He laughs at the suggestion that he must occasionally marvel at his own success: “No, no,” he chuckles. “Lots of occupations make a useful contribution to society. I wouldn’t set myself apart.”
Modest words for a man whose “useful contribution to society” has given hope to the 3.9m people diagnosed with the condition in the UK and who has shown doctors a new way to fight a disease which causes 185 amputations and 700 premature deaths every week.
Now, he wants to go one step further and share everything he has learned directly with the public, in a new book, Your Simple Guide to Reversing Type 2 Diabetes. It’s a 153-page paperback that takes you through the latest research on how the disease develops and explains why rapid weight loss can be so effective at reversing the condition in the early stages – which usually means during the first six years of a diagnosis.
“If people really do want to make it happen, then in the first few years of diagnosis, it’s almost universal that their health can be returned to normal,” says Taylor, who is professor of medicine and metabolism at Newcastle University. In one study, he found that nine out of 10 people with “early” type 2 diabetes were cured after losing more than 2½st (15kg).
The book also explains who is at greatest risk and why some people who have a “normal” Body Mass Index (BMI) develop the disease, when many people who are more overweight – or even obese – do not.
Taylor’s “Newcastle” weight loss program is a clinically proven method of reversing early type 2 diabetes and his approach is currently being rolled out to people with the condition by the NHS. It involves cutting your calorie intake to 700-800 calories a day. In the book, he explains how the people in his program managed to do this – typically by consuming only slimming meal shakes and non-starchy vegetables, plus one cup of tea or coffee each day with skimmed milk – lost a life-changing amount of weight in just eight weeks. And how you can do the same, safely, at home.
In other words, it is a book that has all the hallmarks of becoming a massive bestseller. But Taylor himself will not make a penny from it. He is donating 100% of his proceeds from the book to the charity Diabetes UK, which is “only logical”, he tells me, because they funded his original 2011 study. “That was so far sighted of them,” he says. “They supported research that I know the experts thought was outlandish.” He says just one person at the research committee meeting spoke up for his proposal and convinced the others by saying: “It might sound crazy, but if he’s right, it would be really important.”
Taylor decided to write the book because, even though most diabetes experts in the UK have now accepted that his rapid weight loss program works, many doctors in Europe and the USA remain unconvinced. “It’s not easy to get new ideas accepted in medicine. So it will be a while before this gets into the textbooks and generations of doctors are taught about it.”
In the meantime, he feels it is his job – his “duty” even – to make people aware of the discoveries he and others have made in recent years. “I feel a responsibility for passing on this knowledge.”
One of Taylor’s most important new discoveries is that everyone has their own fat threshold: an individual level of tolerance for levels of fat in the body. “It’s a personal thing. It’s nothing to do with the sort of information that’s often provided about obesity, which is about average BMI and what the population is doing. The bottom line is, a person will develop type 2 diabetes when they’ve become too heavy for their own body. It doesn’t matter if their BMI is within the ‘normal’ range. They’ve crossed their personal threshold and become unhealthy.”
He is currently in the middle of research to find out whether there’s any way of discovering, via a blood test, when people are heading into this dangerous territory and their fat cells are putting out what he describes as “distress signals”.
What we do know already is that our bodies start to have trouble controlling blood sugar when fat can no longer be stored safely under the skin and it spills over into the liver and then the pancreas. If these organs get clogged with fat, they stop functioning properly and that is when you develop type 2 diabetes.
It is particularly important to note that if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, you are more susceptible genetically. People in these circumstances need to be “very careful” about weight, especially in adult life, Taylor says. “If you’ve increased weight quite a lot above what you were at the age of 21, you’re in the danger zone – and you should get out of it. If you’ve got a family tendency for diabetes, then you really want to avoid weight gain in adult life.”
As Taylor explains in his book, if you have increased your BMI by three units or more since you were in your early 20s, you are at risk. It doesn’t matter how slim you look to other people. “People imagine that if everybody says they’re slim, they won’t get type 2 diabetes, but in fact that’s not true. Our present research involves people who are not obese, and indeed, have a normal BMI.”
This explains why only half of people are clinically obese when they are first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and why studies have shown that almost three-quarters of extremely obese people, with a BMI of over 45, do not suffer from type 2 diabetes. “Some people can put on glorious amounts of fat and store it all under the skin without any metabolic problems at all.”
Taylor also says that it’s important to bear in mind that type 2 diabetes can, at first, be symptomless, so people at risk may wish to get an annual test done via their GP. A simple finger-prick blood test, which gives an immediate blood sugar level result, can be done in many chemists. Signals to look out for include increasing tiredness and, especially, increasing thirst, and a tendency to have more skin infections, “like boils for instance, or candida,” Taylor says.
Rapidly decreasing body weight by 2½st (16kg) will take most people below their personal fat threshold, dramatically lowering their risk. For this reason, “the book goes through the steps that people need to follow to lose a substantial amount of weight and then keep it off”.
Taylor hopes that by writing a paperback in simple, accessible language, he will reach people who are heading towards or have already received a diagnosis and want to learn more about his research. “I’ve realized there is an enormous thirst out there for exact knowledge about how people can deal with this disease themselves, using the new information that we have.” He also wants to explain to as many people as possible what causes type 2 diabetes so individuals feel empowered to make healthy decisions about their body and the food they eat.
“This book is for anyone who wants to understand what happens to food after they swallow it and how that’s handled by their body. And also, critically, how that affects their health.” For example, he has found most people don’t realise that if you eat more carbohydrates or protein than your body needs, the excess is converted into fat and then stored.
This is a million miles from “fat shaming”, he says, and it is up to each person to decide for themselves whether they are too heavy for their own health and happiness. “What I can point out as a doctor are the circumstances that come about when people have crossed their personal fat threshold,” he says. “There’s no judgment on a person who happens to be heavy, compared with someone who happens not to be. It’s about helping individuals who would otherwise run into trouble.”
By: Donna Ferguson
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