An Update on the LCHF Study

Late last year, The Noakes Foundation was awarded a grant of R5.6 million in order to carry out research into the reversal of Type 2 Diabetes. The research is being directed by Professor Noakes and the team consists of an exceptionally talented group of Doctors, Dieticians and Researchers, namely Dr. James Smith, Chris Webster, Tamzyn Murphy and Kate Larmuth of the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, University of Cape Town.


Dr. James Smith gives a short update on the progress of the study so far:


Should a low carbohydrate high fat (LCHF) diet be used to treat diabetes? Well, that’s what our research group hopes to find out. In the past 5 years, LCHF diets have received unprecedented public attention in South Africa, and a large number of people are now experimenting with it.

Despite its popularity, the diet remains highly controversial. On the one hand, there is already a fair amount of scientific evidence that carbohydrate restriction can help people lose weight, improve markers of metabolic syndrome and improve glucose control. On the other hand, some prominent researchers, dieticians and clinicians have publicly warned that the high fat component of the diet is dangerous. Their major concern is that the diet will cause cardiovascular disease, but they also warn that it will aggravate insulin resistance, impair key functions in muscle and the liver and disrupt the bacteria in the gut (amongst other things). This highlights the need for more research; firstly to confirm whether the diet works, but more importantly to show how the diet works and whether the above concerns are valid. Our research will therefore investigate the effects of a LCHF diet in patients with T2D by studying the physiological mechanisms involved.
The current level of public awareness, acceptance and popularity of the LCHF diet makes South Africa a unique setting to study it. It means that we have a rare opportunity to study people who have already followed a LCHF diet for several years.

We recently studied 29 type 2 diabetics who claimed to have followed a LCHF diet for at least 6 months. We interviewed them about their personal experiences with their diet and collected data on their actual diet and medical history. Provisional results show that they ate an average of 12 % Carbohydrate, 69 % Fat and 19 % Protein. The majority of participants lost meaningful amounts of weight, improved their glucose control and reduced their medication use. In fact, about a third of the participants appear to have put their diabetes into remission; these individuals have normal HbA1c and fasting glucose values and are not taking any medications for their diabetes.

The positive experiences from these participants has emphasised the importance of this research. These results have also helped us secure more funding from The Noakes Foundation for a much larger and more in depth trial. This will be a randomised control trial in T2D patients to test the effect of the LCHF diet versus the current best practice diet, on detailed aspects of diabetes pathophysiology and cardiovascular risk.

–  Dr. James Smith

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