- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fat, not sugar, is the key to controlling diabetes,
U.S. researchers said Thursday. They said mice fed a simple low-fat diet
were cured of their diabetes, and say the same should be true of people.
``If you cut out fat and cut it down to a very low level -- in our case
it was 10 percent of calories consumed -- you will reverse diabetes,''
said Richard Surwit, a psychiatry professor at Duke University who led
the study. He said problems controlling blood sugar levels are a side-effect,
and not a cause, of diabetes. Surwit's team tested mice that had been bred
to develop type-2 diabetes -- the type that affects more than 14 million
Americans and millions more around the world. Cutting their fat intake
to 10 percent of calories from 40 percent reversed their diabetes, Surwit
reported in the journal Metabolism. He said people are wasting their time
when they try to eat a low-sugar diet to control or prevent diabetes. ``Sugar
is not a problem. It really isn't,'' he said. ``That should not be something
that people should concern themselves with. It should be fat and total
calories.'' Type-2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to the
effects of the hormone insulin. Insulin is important for metabolizing both
sugar and fat. Because people's blood sugar levels are so strongly affected
by this, doctors and patients alike have focused on sugar as both a cause
and effect of diabetes. But Surwit says this is wrong. ``A high-fat diet
keeps the insulin elevated inappropriately,'' he said. Most Americans,
and indeed most Westerners, eat a high-fat diet, typically getting more
than 30 percent of calories from fat. Most Americans -- 55 percent -- are
also overweight, and obesity and diabetes are very strongly linked. Surwit
says it will be nearly impossible to get most people to eat a 10 percent
fat diet. ``Low-fat food doesn't taste good. It's that simple,'' he said.
He hopes new fat substitutes such as Procter & Gamble's Olestra and
a U.S. Department of Agriculture product known as Nu-Trim, which is made
from oats, will be proved safe and useful. Surwit says he has tested his
ideas in people, as well. He says obese women put on high-sugar and sugar-free
diets that were identical in other ways both lost the same amount of weight,
and their blood sugar and fat levels were the same. He says his ideas have
no bearing on type-1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes.
This disease accounts for only 5 percent of all cases of diabetes and is
caused by damage to the cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin.