The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has teamed up with Virta Health, a Silicon Valley startup, to provide treatment “clinically-proven to safely and sustainably reverse type 2 diabetes without medication or surgery.”
The collaboration has been at the heart of ongoing debates about the effect of the keto diet on reversing type 2 diabetes.
Incepted in 2014, Virta is a startup health company that has designed and developed a proprietary system that encourages type 2 diabetic people to follow the keto diet, which is low in carbs and high in fats.
The keto diet has gained immense popularity in recent years with more and more people experiencing its benefits of losing weight and improved health. However, Virta’s claim about reversing diabetes with the keto diet is unusual.
Type 2 diabetes is often linked to obesity and Virta claims its studies have suggested that losing weight through keto could help control blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Some experts have doubts about the company’s promise to reverse diabetes with the ketogenic diet. They also expressed their concerns that the federal government is giving the company’s promise too much acceptance.
Announcing the collaboration, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said, “Virta’s regimen would help the department create a more comprehensive approach to care.”
According to the agreement, the startup health company has been providing its service free to 400 VA patients for about a year, with ongoing evaluation of the service and their health.
In November, Virta said the initial 90-day results of its service were promising and veterans reported weight loss, good control over blood sugar and lower reliance on diabetes medication.
Former vice president of Virta, Anand Parikh, said, “One of the most important things about our approach is that we individualize for each person.”
The company offers diet coaching, monitoring, and support through a smartphone app, in which patients can regularly upload their blood glucose readings and other medical details, such as blood pressure and weight.
However, the VA’s collaboration with Virta has raised concerns among some experts.
In October, Rep. Josh Gottheimer sent a letter to Wilkie, stating, “The partnership between the VA and Virta Health Corporation provides tacit approval of the ketogenic diet as a means to reverse the impacts of type 2 diabetes. Promoting a ketogenic diet for patients with diabetes may put them at increased health risk.”
Dr. Randall Stafford from Stanford University reviewed Virta’s research and called the results “encouraging.” However, he said the comparison group was “fairly useless, given that it was composed of people who did not want to change their diets.”
He said results do not suggest that the company’s treatment alters diabetes. “My interpretation is that the keto diet is a temporizing measure, not a cure,” he added.