Can You Reverse Diabetes? Expert Doctors Explain
Recent research suggests it's possible to send a type 2 diabetes diagnosis into remission. Doctors share tactics to manage your blood sugar daily and long-term.
Diabetes is a metabolic disease that impacts the way your body turns food into energy, and is also a growing global concern. In the United States alone, over 37 million individuals are grappling with diabetes, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With daily blood sugar monitoring, medications, and dietary discipline that come with a type 2 diagnosis, it’s no wonder so many are wondering: Can you reverse diabetes? Experts are saying it’s possible in some cases.
Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition, stops your body from making insulin. Insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugar.
In contrast, Type 2 diabetes—the more prevalent form—arises when your body struggles with insulin production or use. This typically occurs from diet habits that cause a resistance to insulin, meaning your system no longer responds to insulin appropriately to lower a blood glucose level that’s too high.
Managing diabetes means keeping a close eye on your blood sugar levels. For Type 1 and sometimes Type 2, a diabetes diagnosis also calls for regularly taking insulin.
But lately, some researchers have been focused on an intriguing possibility: The growing interest in reversing Type 2 diabetes. Reversing diabetes doesn’t equate to a cure, but instead means achieving a state of remission, where blood sugar levels stay below the diabetic threshold without medication. Endocrinologist Sydney Blount, MD, at Nebraska Medicine explains: “Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease, so we don’t say it’s ‘reversed’ or ‘cured.’ Instead, we say it’s in remission,” Dr. Blount says.
That’s a major milestone for a Type 2 patient, but of course, it requires ongoing monitoring. “Once your diabetes is in remission,” Dr. Blount says, “you should see your doctor regularly to check for recurrence.”
Can you reverse diabetes? Yes, experts say—in a way
Understanding Hemoglobin A1c
If you have diabetes, you’ve probably heard about Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). This blood test reveals your average blood sugar levels over three months. A reading above 6.5% typically signals diabetes, while below 5.7% is considered normal.
Leading health organizations, including the American Diabetes Association, define diabetes remission as reducing HbA1c to below 6.5%, achieved naturally or through medical intervention, and sustained for at least three months without traditional glucose-lowering medications.
Recent studies offer some hope for turning the tables on diabetes. A 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal The Lancet revealed that a structured weight management program could lead many to remission. Participants who lost 10 to 15 kilograms (which converts to 22 to 33 pounds) were often successful in hitting this milestone.
Another study in 2022 reinforced this, showing that intensive weight management through diet and exercise significantly lowered blood sugar levels. This led many of the study’s participants to diabetes remission.
“We don’t yet know how much weight a person needs to lose to induce remission,” notes Dr. Blount. “It’s different for every individual and depends on factors like duration and severity of diabetes. That’s why it’s important to discuss weight loss with your doctor.”
5 strategies to “reverse” diabetes
Repeated research has narrowed in on a few main strategies that, when followed consistently, can help achieve diabetes remission:
- Dietary Changes: Your diet is a significant player in your overall wellness. Whether it’s low-carb, Mediterranean, or plant-based, the proper diet can help regulate your blood sugar. Research vouches for low-carbohydrate, high-fiber, and healthy-fat diets for better blood sugar control and weight loss.
- Regular Physical Activity: Exercise isn’t just about fitness; it’s about boosting your insulin sensitivity for more effective glucose use. Mix it up with aerobic exercises (like swimming or brisk walking) and resistance training (like weight-lifting) for the best results.
- Weight Management: Shedding even a modest amount of weight, particularly around your abdomen, can dramatically improve your blood sugar levels.
- Stress Management: Never underestimate the impact of stress on your blood sugar. Stress plays powerfully on our hormones, which can impact how food (including sugar) is metabolized. Techniques like mindfulness, yoga, and prioritizing sleep can help keep both stress and diabetes in check.
- Regular Health Check-Ups: Staying on top of your blood sugar levels and consulting with healthcare professionals regularly ensures you’re continuously on the right track.
Is it ever too late to reverse diabetes?
Experts say it’s never too late to start making positive changes. While earlier intervention can lead to better outcomes, improvements in blood sugar control and overall health can be achieved at any stage of the disease. It’s about finding the right approach and making sustainable lifestyle changes.
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