Can you reverse diabetes?
We often get asked, “Can you reverse diabetes?” Before we address this issue, let’s talk briefly about what diabetes is. The CDC describes diabetes as a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. This happens when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. As a result of reduced or impaired insulin use, your blood glucose (blood sugar) will be higher than it should be, which can increase your risk for a number of serious health conditions. If you’ve recently been diagnosed, you can find useful information here about managing your condition. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also has a good overview of different types of diabetes.
The short answer about reversing diabetes: Given the nature of diabetes, it can never be completely eliminated. However, if we look at reversing type 2 diabetes, the possibilities are more promising and there are some exciting new studies that show it is possible for those living with type 2 diabetes to go into remission. We’ll explore what that means.
Type 2 diabetes & remission
International experts define diabetes remission as sustaining normal blood glucose levels for three months or more after stopping diabetes medication, using an HbA1c (average blood glucose) level of less than 6.5% as the criteria.
Achieving this is an incredibly exciting development! It’s important to note that being in remission doesn’t mean you are diabetes-free– but you may be free of some health concerns, which can be very liberating.
How do you make it happen?
Studies have shown that it might be possible to reverse the course type 2 diabetes or put it in remission through weight loss and diet change. These encouraging results are relatively recent, and research is still ongoing.
A ground-breaking study in the UK called DiRECT, which stands for Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial, has published some astonishing results. People living with type 2 diabetes took part in a low-calorie, weight management, diet-based program. More than a third of the participants (36%) were in remission two years after taking part in the program. Not surprisingly, there is a close link between weight loss and remission: Two thirds (64%) of those who lost more than 10 kg (about 22 pounds) were in remission after two years.
Was it easy? Definitely not! Participants were severely limited in what they ate, which can be incredibly challenging. They also had the advantage of getting expert support from trained healthcare professionals right from the beginning.
So if you’re not part of a clinical study, how can you get your numbers down and get off of medication? To achieve success – the sooner you start, the better! You want to start on a weight loss program right after your diagnosis if you can. Here are some of the options that have proven effective to date:
How low are we talking about? For a defined period of time, usually a couple of months, you only have about 600-850 kcal a day. To give you a sense of what that means, there are:
- 510 calories in a Venti Double Chocolaty Chip Crème Frappuccino® Blended Beverage
- 730 calories in a Pizza Hut 6″ Supreme Personal Pan Pizza
- 420 calories in one Apple Fritter from Dunkin Donuts
- 945 calories in a cup of macadamia nuts
You get the idea. To get the most bang for your buck, you need to eat low calorie food to feel full. Because this diet is so restrictive, make sure to talk it over with your doctor first. You want to make sure that it is right for you and your health profile. It’s also important to know when and how to up your calorie count.
Some people find that severely restricting carbohydrates (less than 130 grams of carbohydrate a day) can help them get their blood sugar numbers down. This approach has been endorsed by both the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) and the American Diabetes Association. There are a number of diets with a low-carb bent, including the ketogenic diet, the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, and more. Again – a doctor consult is a must!
Bariatric (weight loss surgery)
There are different types of weight loss surgeries. Some shrink your stomach’s capacity and some change how your body absorbs nutrients. Certain procedures combine both approaches.
Check to see if your insurance covers weight loss surgery. You may get coverage, given that these procedures are proven to help with type 2 diabetes – remission rates can be as high as 78%! Weight loss surgery seems to change your metabolism and help your body produce and use insulin more efficiently, independent of weight loss. Check out this astonishing stat: one long-term study found that participants were still in remission 15 years after surgery.
If you decide to go this route, your doctor will evaluate if you are a good candidate for the procedure. They will look at your BMI, previous weight loss efforts, your emotional state, and more.
Like any surgery, there are potential risks involved, including:
- Poor response to anesthesia
- Damage to nearby organs during surgery
- Bleeding, blood clots, or infection
- Dumping syndrome – nausea, diarrhea, unpleasant fullness, abdominal cramps, and sweating
- Kidney stones and gallstones
Surgery is not always the perfect solution. Some people do gain back the weight they lost as a result of surgery and experience a recurrence of the conditions they had before.
The key to long-term success
Keeping your blood sugar numbers in range and staying off medication is a life-long effort – whatever method you choose to get there. You may see advertisements for alternative medicines, over-the-counter drugs, or homeopathic products promising you a quick fix or shortcut for reversing diabetes. Don’t fall for it! The unproven methods are not worth your money and can even be dangerous.
You will always need to keep an eye on your diet and exercise – that is the nature of the condition. Programs like Dario can be valuable tools for managing diabetes, as you can track your numbers, food, and physical activity all in one place, and get an overview of your trends. The encouraging news is that you can enjoy good health! Not having to take medication and keeping your numbers in range is a terrific milestone. Focus on these fantastic achievements and feel good.
The articles provided on this website are for informational purposes only. In addition, it is written for a generic audience and not a specific case; therefore, this information should not be used for diagnostic or medical treatment. This site does not attempt to replace the patient-physician relationship and fully recommends the reader to seek out the best care from his/her physician and/or diabetes educator.