Many diabetics can significantly lower their blood sugar -- and maybe even reduce their medication or stop taking it altogether -- by eating lots and lots of fruits, vegetables and high-fiber grain, researchers say.
The experimental diet -- tested on 13 diabetics -- contained 50 grams of fiber a day, or about twice the amount recommended by the American Diabetes Association. That is equivalent to seven or eight servings of fruit and vegetables and three of whole wheat or other high-fiber grain.
The study was published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine. It was led by Dr. Abhimanyu Garg of UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, the hormone needed for the body to process sugar for energy. The most common form of diabetes, striking up to 2,000 of every 100,000 people, usually develops gradually in adults. These people produce insulin, but not enough. Their disease usually can be controlled with diet, weight loss and once-a-day pills.
All of the people studied had this form of diabetes; 10 of them were taking pills.
The diabetics spent six weeks on the ADA-recommended diet and six weeks on the experimental diet. The experimental diet reduced blood sugar levels about 10 percent. The ADA diet is aimed at keeping blood sugar under control but does not reduce levels.
The drop in blood sugar was about the same as what a second pill might have brought, Dr. Marc Rendell of the Creighton Diabetes Center in Omaha, Neb., said in an editorial.
None of the patents in the study were able to reduce their medication, but Garg said that wasn't the point of the experiment. He would not speculate on whether the diet could let patients reduce their medication.
The diet also improved the diabetics' cholesterol levels, which was encouraging. Heart disease is a major cause of death among diabetics.
An ADA task force is working on new dietary recommendations and hopes to have them out before January.
"My hope would be that the task force would take a close look at this study," said Anne Daly, ADA vice president of health care education.
The average American eats about 16 or 17 grams of fiber a day.
Daly said the study will help more doctors realize the importance of diet in controlling diabetes.
Diabetics whose disease develops rapidly in children and teen-agers often produce so little insulin that they must give themselves shots of it. The form affects about one-tenth as many people as the other form.
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