The Science of Carbohydrate Restriction

Published on 
June 18, 2024
March 8, 2017
Virta Health
Virta Health
Virta Health

At Virta, we apply a science- and evidence-based approach to everything we do. Our co-founders Dr. Steve Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek have a combined 60 years of research and clinical experience in the areas of metabolic disease and physiology. Between them, they have published more than 300 peer-reviewed publications and 4 books, and are frequent guest lecturers at conferences all over the world. In addition, numerous additional members of Virta’s team are experienced researchers and clinicians.

Our first published manuscript from our current clinical trial is a continuation of our evidenced-based philosophy, and it demonstrates the potential of reversing diabetes in millions of people. As we have described elsewhere, a highly individualized approach to carbohydrate intake is one of the primary innovations that will enable us to reverse diabetes at scale.

Virta is not alone, however, in developing the science of low carbohydrate nutrition. Our findings are similar to those from other studies that have employed the significant restriction of carbohydrates in patients with type 2 diabetes, and we are grateful to the many other scientists and researchers who have contributed to this important field:

  • In an in-hospital study, patients with type 2 diabetes showed significant improvement in glycemic control and insulin sensitivity in only 2 weeks when put on a very low carbohydrate and high fat diet. Significant improvements in triglycerides and cholesterol were also seen.
  • This quick improvement was also seen in a randomized trial of patients with type 2 diabetes following a very low carbohydrate and high fat diet versus the dietary guidelines from the American Diabetes Association.After 3 months, blood glucose control, weight loss and medication reduction all favored the low carbohydrate, high fat group.
  • Another 16 week, very low carbohydrate diet study also found that patients with type 2 diabetes were able to reduce medication while improving blood sugar control. [3]
  • Over 24 weeks a very low carbohydrate diet resulted in better glycemic control and medication reduction compared to a low glycemic index diet. [4]
  • A study of 102 patients with type 2 diabetes over six months showed a significant reduction in medications and improvement in glycemic control. [5]
  • A study also showed that weight loss and blood sugar improvements could be maintained up to 44 months with a low carbohydrate diet in patients with type 2 diabetes. [6]

Similar improvements have also been reported in patients with metabolic syndrome. A study comparing a very low carbohydrate diet against a low fat diet showed that the low carbohydrate approach resulted in greater improvement in features of the metabolic syndrome along with multiple cardiovascular risk factors. [7]

Beyond type 2 diabetes

Beyond lowering blood glucose, a low carbohydrate diet improves multiple heart disease risk factors when compared to a low fat diet. This includes improvements in both blood triglycerides and HDL cholesterol. In addition, inflammation, a very important risk factor for coronary artery disease, has been consistently shown to decrease with carbohydrate restriction. [9, 14, 15]

Carbohydrate restriction alone is not sufficient to reverse type 2 diabetes at scale in millions of people, but it is been shown by many researchers outside of and well before Virta to produce meaningful health benefits.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any advice relating to your health. View full disclaimer

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  1. Effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite, blood glucose levels, and insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes.
  2. A randomized pilot trial of a moderate carbohydrate diet compared to a very low carbohydrate diet in overweight or obese individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus or prediabetes.
  3. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes.
  4. The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus.
  5. Effect of low-calorie versus low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet in type 2 diabetes.
  6. Low-carbohydrate diet in type 2 diabetes: stable improvement of bodyweight and glycemic control during 44 months follow-up.
  7. Carbohydrate restriction has a more favorable impact on the metabolic syndrome than a low fat diet.
  8. Effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet program compared to a low-fat diet on fasting lipoprotein subclasses.
  9. A randomized study comparing the effects of a low-carbohydrate diet and a conventional diet on lipoprotein subfractions and C-reactive protein levels in patients with severe obesity.
  10. A randomized study comparing the effects of a low-carbohydrate diet and a conventional diet on lipoprotein subfractions and C-reactive protein levels in patients with severe obesity.
  11. Very low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets affect fasting lipids and postprandial lipemia differently in overweight men.
  12. Dietary carbohydrate restriction improves insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, microvascular function, and cellular adhesion markers in individuals taking statins.
  13. Effect of a high saturated fat and no-starch diet on serum lipid subfractions in patients with documented atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
  14. Comparison of low fat and low carbohydrate diets on circulating fatty acid composition and markers of inflammation.
  15. Weight loss leads to reductions in inflammatory biomarkers after a very-low-carbohydrate diet and a low-fat diet in overweight men.

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