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  • Writer's pictureRichard Kadri-Langford

Can Type 2 Diabetes be reversed?

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

The NHS website states “Type 2 Diabetes is a common condition that causes the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood to become too high.”[1]

It goes on to explain some of the symptoms experienced by early-stage diabetics before commenting that Type 2 Diabetes is a lifelong condition.

But is that the case? Are there circumstances in which Type 2 Diabetes can be reversed? Well, it indeed used to be thought that once someone had developed diabetes they were stuck with finger prick tests, insulin injections and a restricted diet for the rest of their lives.

Nowadays, thanks to ongoing research, thinking has moved on. Whilst it is acknowledged that diabetes can’t be cured, it has been shown that lifestyle and changes to diet can result in diabetes going into remission. This in turn enables individuals to live healthy lives without the need to regularly test for diabetes or be concerned about some diabetes side effects such as negative impacts on eye and heart health.

Before we go further let us stress that this article deals with Type 2 Diabetes. Whilst Type 1 and gestational diabetes can be treated, they cannot be reversed.

With that in mind, what options are available for those who either want to try to reverse their Type 2 Diabetes or manage a pre-diabetes condition? Crucially, the earlier diabetes is identified, the greater the opportunity for the patient to make lifestyle changes to prevent ongoing diabetes development and damage

Well, perhaps unsurprisingly top of the list comes weight loss, diet and exercise.

Being overweight is of the key risk factors for diabetes. When our bodies start to store too much fat in the liver and pancreas certain biological changes take place which increases the risk of diabetes.

Reversing those changes requires a shift not only in body mass but also in the way in which our bodies process the food that we eat.

It is generally acknowledged that a weight loss of 15kg is required in order to reverse diabetes. However, whilst 15kg might be a significant target for some, others may find such weight loss either comparatively easy to achieve or leave them still overweight. One US trial took an alternative approach, encouraging participants to lose 7% of their initial body weight.[2] The trial’s authors then asked participants to maintain that weight loss by ‘eating less fat and fewer calories as well as exercising 150 minutes per week.’

After ten years the trial found that participants showed a 34% delay in the development of diabetes, and after fifteen years by 27% compared to those who took a placebo. The effect was more significant in those over 60 who after ten years showed a 49% delay in diabetes development.

So, weight loss, through a combination of diet and exercise can make a measurable difference. Interestingly, the jury is still out on the best type of diet to follow; with Diabetes UK commenting that:

“There is no such thing as a special diet for people with diabetes or those aiming for diabetes reversal”. [3]

Whilst some authorities promote intermittent fasting or calorie counting, others suggest that low fat or low carbohydrate diets, or even a Mediterranean diet may be preferable. One BMJ article commented that whilst studies showed slighter greater weight loss after one year from low carbohydrate diets than low-fat diets, after two years there was little difference in outcome between the diets.[4]

Whilst exercise will play its part in helping with weight loss, it appears that regular exercise can also have a direct impact on diabetes development.

One 2020 review revealed that regular physical activity can deplete glycogen stores, improve insulin sensitivity, and ‘induce a selective mobilization of visceral adipose tissue and liver fat.’[5]

In effect, our bodies call on stores of blood sugars when we exercise. Through exercise, insulin sensitivity is also increased, helping muscle cells to make the best use of any available glucose. This effect can last for up to twenty-four hours, which means that regular exercise can help to smooth out insulin and glucose pathways.

We’ve seen above how exercise, diet and weight loss can help to reverse diabetes but they are not the only contributors. Getting enough sleep and reducing stress can also play their part. The link between sleep and obesity is well known, with sleep deprivation triggering cravings for food which is high in calories and carbohydrates. Stress eating can also lead to an unhealthy diet as well as triggering certain biological changes which can be precursors to diabetes.

Smoking too is a potential trigger factor for diabetes. One report on smoking and diabetes quoted a 2014 American study which revealed that smoking increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes by 30-40%. [6] The same study also highlighted that the World Health Organisation recognises smoking as a presentable risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes.

Can Type 2 Diabetes be reversed? Well yes, it can but it does require the sort of discipline and attention to diet and exercise that could prevent diabetes from developing in the first place. Either way, with greater attention to a healthy lifestyle, individuals might be able to stave off the development not only of diabetes but also of other health conditions which can develop once diabetes has a hold on our bodies.

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Please note. This article is not intended to be advice or guidance. Please consult your healthcare professional for individual support.

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