Is a low-carb diet helpful or dangerous for type 1 diabetics?

A new study published in Pediatrics suggests a low-carbohydrate diet can help people with type 1 diabetes control blood sugar levels with lower-than-normal doses of insulin.

The 316 patients in the observational study, including 130 children, experienced an average drop of 1.45 percent in their hemoglobin A1C levels after following the low-carb diet. The population’s average A1C level post-diet was 5.67 percent—considered in the “normal” range and well below the threshold for diabetes.

Also, the rate of diabetes-related hospitalizations dropped from 8 percent before the diet to 2 percent afterward.

These findings surprised some diabetes experts—including the paper’s lead author—given that many clinicians don’t recommend a low-carb diet for these patients out of fear that restricting carbs could lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels.

“Their blood sugar control seemed almost too good to be true,” lead author Belinda Lennerz, MD, PhD, an instructor of pediatric endocrinology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told The New York Times. “It’s nothing we typically see in the clinic for type 1 diabetes.”

Despite the promising results, the researchers cautioned the findings must be replicated in randomized trials before issuing more widespread recommendations of a low-carb diet for type 1 diabetics. Followers of the diet had increased LDL cholesterol levels, which deserves further study, the authors noted. However, HDL levels also increased and triglycerides were generally low.

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