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It found that children and adults with type 1 diabetes had "exceptional" blood sugar control and low rates of major complications if they followed a very low-carb, high-protein diet for an average of just over two years and took insulin at smaller doses than typically required on a normal diet, The New York Times reported.
And while some diabetes experts fear that restricting carbs can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels and potentially stunt a child's growth, children on the low-carb diet did not show any signs of growth problems, according to the study in the journal Pediatrics.
The patients' "blood sugar control seemed almost too good to be true," said lead author Belinda Lennerz, instructor, division of pediatric endocrinology, Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, The Times reported.
"It's nothing we typically see in the clinic for Type 1 diabetes," Lennerz added.
The study -- which included 316 patients, including 130 children -- was an observational study, not a randomized trial with a control group. The patients were recruited from an online group dedicated to low-carb diets for diabetes. Researchers reviewed the patients' medical records and contacted their medical providers, The Times reported.
Even though this was not a clinical trial, the study is significant because it features a group of patients who have been "extraordinarily successful" at controlling their diabetes with a very low-carb diet, according to Dr. David Harlan, co-director of the Diabetes Center of Excellence at the UMass Memorial Medical Center. He was not involved in the study.
"Perhaps the surprise is that for this large number of patients it is much safer than many experts would have suggested," he told The Times.
"I'm excited to see this paper," Harlan said. "It should reopen the discussion about whether this is something we should be offering our patients as a therapeutic approach."
The study authors warned that the findings should not lead patients to change how they manage their diabetes without consulting their doctors, and that large clinical trials are needed to fully assess this approach, The Times reported.
"We think the findings point the way to a potentially exciting new treatment option," study co-author Dr. David Ludwig, a pediatric endocrinologist at Boston Children's Hospital, said. "However, because our study was observational, the results should not, by themselves, justify a change in diabetes management."
About 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes.
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