A marathon runner who was shocked to be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes is taking part in a trial into the impact of diet on those with the condition.
Tony Pidgeon, from Faringdon, participated in the University of Oxford DIAMOND study – funded by the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) – into whether a low-calorie and low-carbohydrate diet can lead to remission for type 2 diabetes.
The dad-of-two, 55, a pharmaceutical development consultant who has completed 18 marathons, including Tokyo, Chicago and Brighton, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2021.
Speaking during November’s Diabetes Awareness Month, Tony said: “It came as a hell of a shock when I was told I have diabetes. It was during one of the COVID-19 lockdowns, so I couldn’t get out much to see friends and family. I felt alone and very angry at the situation.
“I don’t think of myself as a typical diabetic patient. I’m not particularly overweight. I’m incredibly active and have run marathons all over the world.
“The thought of having to take medication every day made me feel old. It reminded me of seeing my elderly grandfather taking his medication for diabetes when I was a kid.”
Tony was contacted by a nurse at his GP surgery, White Horse Medical Practice in Faringdon, to ask if he would be interested in joining the DIAMOND study.
The father-of-two said: “When I got the call about the study, I jumped at the chance to take part. I thought that it would give me something to do to make me feel more in control of managing and hopefully improving my condition.”
The study involves participants maintaining a low-carbohydrate diet of 800 to 1,000 calories daily for 3 months. In the following 3 months, the participants gradually increased their food, including more protein, vegetables and a small amount of high-fibre carbohydrates.
Participants are monitored for 9 months following the end of the diet. Tony started on the trial – which provides recipes – in October 2022 and is now being monitored by his GP as part of the standard care for people with diabetes.
He said: “The diet to start with is pretty brutal. I was asked to eliminate pretty much all carbohydrates, meaning no bread, pasta, cakes etc. I would call myself a ‘foodie’, I enjoy my food and I love cooking so I found it a struggle to start with.”
Participants are asked to stop taking their diabetes medication during the trial, as this reduces blood sugar levels, which the diet should achieve. They were given equipment to test blood pressure and take blood sugar readings.
Tony said: “I appreciated being able to take these tests at home and see for myself that my blood pressure and blood sugar levels were dropping, especially as I wasn’t taking any medication at that time. I felt like the diet was allowing me to take back control.”
When the trial stopped, Tony did not have to resume taking his diabetes medication, metformin, as his blood glucose levels had reduced. His weight also dropped from 13st 4lbs to 11st 5lbs, and is waiting to see if he goes into remission from diabetes as his blood sugar levels have decreased significantly.
The results from the study are due to be published in 2025, following the collation of the findings.
Tony said: “Lately, I haven’t been as strict with the diet as I could have been, and I have put on some of that weight I lost. I may potentially have to go back on the medication, but it’s my goal to achieve remission from diabetes.
“There are benefits to taking part in research for yourself and it could be beneficial to other people too. I would recommend anyone consider taking part in studies because you never know how it might help you or society.”
Dr Jadine Scragg, the study’s researcher and trial manager at the University of Oxford, said: “We have known for years that a low-carb diet is beneficial for people that have type 2 diabetes. What we don’t understand fully yet is exactly how effective it is to help people come into remission from type 2 diabetes.
“The DIAMOND study is novel in that participants receive a huge amount of support from their clinical team at their GP practice. They have monitoring to check their blood pressure and blood glucose levels are in a safe range, as well as regular check-ins to make sure they are handling the diet adjustment well.
“We are still recruiting participants to the study and lots of data is still needed to see if this approach to managing diabetes is effective across a wide range of people.”
Visit the DIAMOND study website for more information about the study. Eligible participants are invited to take part through their GP practice.
Participating in health research helps develop new treatments, improve the NHS, public health and social care and save lives.
The NHS, public health and social care, supports research by offering opportunities for patients to participate in trials. Healthy people can also get involved, so results can be compared to those with a medical condition.
Patients are also encouraged to ask their doctor or health professional about research opportunities and search bepartofresearch.uk for trials seeking volunteers.