Can Type 2 Diabetes Be Reversed? A Guide For You Or a Loved One
Type 2 diabetes is a fairly common condition that millions suffer from every year. There is no cure as of today, but the symptoms can certainly be reversed.
What do we mean by that? Diabetic’s genetic susceptibility to the condition will always exist, but it’s possible to return blood glucose back to normal levels even without medication.
This ideal state is known as remission. It can be complete, where the blood sugar returns to healthy ranges, or partial, where it returns to levels before a patient becomes diagnosed with diabetes. There’s also “prolonged remission,” where blood tests confirm regular glucose levels without type 2 diabetes medicine for five years or more.
Achieving remission is possible with the help of a physician. While the symptoms may return in the future, the goal is to live in the long-term without facing the health problems related to diabetes.
How Does Type 2 Diabetes Work?
Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, is a permanent, chronic condition. It is most common in people who are overweight, over the age of 40, or have a family history of diabetes.
However, anybody has a chance of becoming diabetic. To understand how it works, let’s first talk about insulin and its role in the body.
As blood sugar, or glucose, levels rise in the body after a meal, the pancreas generates a hormone called insulin. This hormone helps sugar move from the blood to the cells that subsequently use it as energy. As the blood glucose levels fall, the pancreas discontinues insulin production.
Individuals with type 2 diabetes cannot metabolize sugar in this way. They might be unable to produce enough insulin, or their bodies might have insulin resistance or poor insulin sensitivity. Either way, these people run the risk of hyperglycemia, which happens when glucose builds up excessively in the blood. When cells cannot receive energy from blood sugar, they also may cease to function properly.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:
- Constant hunger and thirst
- Excessive urination
- Blurry vision
- Discoloration of the skin
- Infections in the skin, mouth, or foot that heal slowly
- Increased chance of heart disease
- Vision problems
Current treatments for type 2 diabetes mainly consist of monitoring blood sugar regularly and taking insulin and other medications accordingly. Treatment prevents the disease from becoming deadly. With the right lifestyle changes, you can even reverse diabetes.
Is Type 2 Diabetes Reversal Scientifically Proven?
Several studies have confirmed that type 2 diabetes reversal is possible through changes in diet and exercise.
The 2017 Review
A 2017 paper reports that low-carb diets reduced the need for diabetes medication, lowered blood pressure, and increased the amount of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the body, which is considered a healthful lipid.
This report specifically designates a low-carbohydrate diet as superior to the traditional low-fat, high-carb diet. 18 studies were included in the holistic review to reach this conclusion.
One issue brought up by the researchers was the difficulty of maintaining a carbohydrate limit of 50 grams a day, which was deemed “unrealistic.” Rather, a 130 gram a day limit was considered “achievable.”
The 2018 Study
Another recent study gives us a similar conclusion. 94% of the participants taking a low carbohydrate diet for a year no longer needed insulin as much. In fact, glycemic control was shown to be sustainable even after a few years.
These results were especially vital since, as the report mentions, the number of people with type 2 diabetes has nearly quadrupled since 1980. There were also issues regarding cost and adherence that remained challenges for type 2 diabetes treatments and medications.
It’s clear from the research that type 2 diabetes is no longer the bulletproof disease we considered it years ago. Treatment and changes in lifestyle are the keys to reversing the effects in the long-term.
Is Weight Loss an Effective Solution?
Being overweight is one of the most significant risk factors for type 2 diabetes. The rising rate of obesity across all age groups is likely responsible for the increase in diabetes incidence even among the younger generation.
Excess fat negatively impacts how your body produces and handles insulin. Specifically, there are beta-cells responsible for generating insulin in the pancreas. They cannot function properly when exposed to saturated fatty acids due to bad diets. However, beta-cells can return to proper functioning once you’ve reduced fat levels in your liver or pancreas.
Diabetic patients should aim to make specialized dietary changes to empower insulin production in the body. A typical regime includes:
- Reduced calorie and carbohydrate consumption
- More proteins like fish, beans, and poultry
- A variety of vegetables, as the natural fiber in them helps gut bacteria
- Healthful fats, including avocados and olives
- Avoiding sweets and alcohol
For instance, replace carbohydrates like biscuits with olives and nuts, which are high in fat. Carbs can boost your blood sugar unnecessarily, and the American Diabetes Association recommends low-carb diets.
Losing weight is a large part of the process of reversing diabetes symptoms. Because sudden changes in diet can be risky, consult with your doctor and talk about changing your medication accordingly as your body becomes acquainted with the new intake.
The sooner you start the diet after diagnosis, the better. Remission is less likely the older the condition is, as the body slowly loses its ability to generate insulin with time.
Considering Fasting Days
Another potential strategy is intermittent fasting, the avoidance of consuming calories for a set period. For example, a patient might eat only one low-carb meal for a few days a week.
This time-restricted feeding (TRF) requires you to only consume calories during certain times of the day, which lowers blood sugar levels in the body. Alongside weight loss, you may find that diabetes medication will no longer be necessary after some time.
Keep in mind that fasting is not a common treatment for type 2 diabetes. Always ask your doctor for advice on how to go about it safely.
If you’re obese with a body mass index of over 35, talk with your physician about bariatric surgery. This option may be a fast and effective method to reverse type 2 diabetes over the long-term. However, keep in mind the risks associated with any surgical procedure.
An article in the U.S. National Library of Medicine recorded statistics for the Greenville Gastric Bypass operation and verified its effectiveness for 397 obese patients.
Gastric bypass surgery is one popular option, and a 2010 study confirmed its effectiveness. 72% of patients in the study with type 2 diabetes achieved remission after the operation. Namely, glycemic control was shown to improve as a result of the surgery even when not considering the weight loss.
Permanent surgery should rarely be considered as a first option. Go for a diet and exercise regime first before thinking about an operation.
You might have heard the news stories of type 2 diabetes patients reversing the condition through exercise. One cyclist did so in March of 2014.
Exercising is just as important as sticking to a diet. Making your lifestyle more active works wonders for reversing type 2 diabetes symptoms. But as the saying goes: you can’t outrun a bad diet. Combine both elements for a healthier lifestyle. Exercise not only helps you lose weight but also forces your body to use more blood sugar.
For patients with a usually sedentary lifestyle, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts. Start with short walks before running, for instance.
Remember to continue checking your blood sugar level regularly throughout the workout, and keep a snack on hand in case it drops too far.
What About the Ketogenic Diet?
You may have noticed during our discussion on diabetic diets that cutting down on carbohydrates is often recommended. That’s one of the goals of the keto diet.
The keto diet has received mainstream attention in recent years for its potential effects on diabetes. It focuses on restricting carbohydrates and replacing them largely with fat.
What is Ketosis?
When the body starts using fat instead of carbs for energy, the person can expect rapid weight loss and stronger blood glucose control. This state is known as nutritional ketosis, where the body starts burning fat rather than carbohydrates for energy.
It gets its name from ketones, the molecules in the liver that provide energy to important organs like the brain and heart. Ketones play a role in solving problems related to type 2 diabetes-like inflammation and insulin resistance.
The secret lies in how the body processes fat, carbohydrates, and proteins for energy. Insulin is heavily involved in the processing of carbs into glucose, and the resulting blood sugar spike can be damaging to diabetic patients.
On the other side, insulin is not as necessary in the process for fats, which do not break down into glucose as efficiently. Finally, patients should consume proteins in moderation. While important for cell growth, they also can break down into glucose and raise blood sugar levels.
The keto diet aims to achieve ketosis and mitigate dietary issues common in those with type 2 diabetes.
Are There Any Side Effects?
The keto diet does have possible side effects:
- Higher cholesterol rates
- Loss of energy
- Muscle cramps
- Prolonged QT-interval
This final point, where the heart suffers from irregular beating patterns, is a fairly rare but potentially dangerous condition to look out for.
Don’t start a keto diet by yourself. Have your physician work alongside you to not only determine the best foods and daily nutrition, but also modify your medication dosages as your body becomes more acquainted with the diet.
More research is necessary to examine the long-term effects of such a diet, but short-term reports do show promising results for those with type 2 diabetes. The diet specifically aims to achieve the same goal as many medications like insulin and metformin: to reduce elevated blood glucose.
It’s obvious why the ketogenic diet is a commonly brought-up talking point when doctors discuss diabetes remission.
Continuing To Test Blood Sugar
Keeping track of your blood sugar is especially important when you are making changes to your diet or exercise program. Diabetics often use inexpensive blood glucose meters for the job. Typical ranges are:
- Normal: 100 mg/dL after an overnight fast or 140 mg/dL after a meal
- Prediabetes: 100 to 125 mg/dL after an overnight fast
- Diabetes: 126 mg/dL after an overnight fast or 200 mg/dL at any time
A single glucometer reading is not enough for a diagnosis. You need a doctor to confirm it through an A1c blood test that’s typically performed at least twice a year.
What Should You Avoid?
Don’t fall for the advertising of any treatment that claims to be a “magic bullet” for type 2 diabetes. Such a cure simply does not exist, and the FDA has released warnings on certain products that claim to have these benefits.
Avoid dietary supplements, over-the-counter drugs, homeopathic products, and alternative medicines with these claims. They could mess with how your real medications work or even cause an overdose if you don’t read the ingredients closely enough.
What About Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, is similar to Type 2 but mainly develops during childhood. Type 1 patients cannot maintain sufficient insulin levels and must inject it directly to make use of blood glucose.
Causes are still unclear, but the risk factors actually do not include weight but rather:
There is currently no proven method for reversing type 1 diabetes, as it’s an autoimmune disease. Researchers are still making progress on this topic, but basic treatments are still effective for now.
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes are similar to type 2 (including heart disease, skin and mouth conditions, and kidney problems), but the treatments for it are considerably different. For instance, the ketogenic diet mentioned before does not have any conclusive evidence to back up its effectiveness for type 1 diabetes. Consult with a physician if you have type 1.
Learn More About Type 2 Diabetes and Your Options
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