The six-month study by the University's Edgar National Centre for Diabetes Research divided 87 high-risk diabetes patients into two groups. Both received optimised medical care, but patients in one of the groups also received regular one-on-one dietary advice from a dietitian.
Lead investigator Dr Kirsten Coppell says that at the end of the study, measures of glycaemic control were found to have significantly improved in the group receiving the advice. The group also recorded an average weight loss of 2 kg and a 3cm reduction in waistlines.
"Achieving good glycaemic control is a crucial goal in managing diabetes, as it can prevent long-term complications such as kidney failure, heart disease, amputations and blindness," Dr Coppell says.
"Before the widespread introduction of anti-diabetic drugs, the key focus in diabetes care was on diet and lifestyle. Our research indicates that while this earlier approach has tended to be forgotten in this modern age of a 'pill for every ill', it still very much has its place in diabetes management."
Rather than focusing on a strict diet, nutritional advice in the study was tailored to match each individual's socio-economic and cultural circumstances. It involved elements such as encouraging smaller meals, reducing unhealthy components in their diets while eating more fruit and vegetables, she says.
"The next step in the research will be to explore what barriers existed to patients adopting aspects of the dietary advice. Our ultimate aim is to develop a programme that could be put into place to improve the health of the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with diabetes," she says.
Dr Coppell is presenting the preliminary results of the Lifestyle Over and Above Drugs in Diabetes study at the New Zealand Society for the Study of Diabetes conference at the University of Otago.