A low-calorie diet may have more beneficial cardiac effects than medication in diabetes patients, according to a new study.

The study found that a low-calorie diet eliminates insulin dependence and lead to improved heart function in obese patients with type 2 diabetes.

"It is striking to see how a relatively simple intervention of a very low calorie diet effectively cures type 2 diabetes mellitus. Moreover, these effects are long term, illustrating the potential of this method," lead authors Sebastiaan Hammer from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said in a statement.

The study is being presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), diabetes affects 25.8 million people in the United States, with 18.8 million diagnosed cases and an estimated 7 million undiagnosed.

Diabetes is a chronic illness in which there are high levels of glucose in the blood. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease.

Low-Caloric Diet

Researchers analyzed 15 patients with type 2 diabetes before and after four months of a diet consisting of 500 calories per day.

The diet resulted in a decrease in body mass index from 35.3 to 27.5 over four months. It also reduced the amount of fat around the heart -pericardial- that can be detrimental to cardiac function and improved heart function.

After an additional 14 months of follow-up on a regular diet, the body mass index rose to 31.7, but pericardial fat only increased slightly to 32 ml. Cardiac function also remained better.

"Our results show that 16 weeks of caloric restriction improved heart function in these patients," Dr. Hammer said. "More importantly, despite regain of weight, these beneficial cardiovascular effects were persistent over the long term."