Can You Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that can lead to high blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar can cause numerous health issues including heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

To keep blood sugar levels in check and prevent health complications, you can manage your disease with diet and exercise and, if necessary, weight loss and medication.

It is believed that through such lifestyle changes, some people might actually even be able to reverse their type 2 diabetes.

A man does a high kick to warm up before exercising

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Reversal vs. Remission vs. Cure

Type 2 diabetes had long been believed to be irreversible. But more recently, research shows that the condition may be reversible.

Type 2 diabetes is considered to be in reversal as you are lowering your blood sugar levels. The disease is considered to have been reversed when your blood sugar levels return to the levels they had been before your diabetes diagnosis.

Reversal may last in the long term. At that point, your type 2 diabetes may be considered to be in remission.

Remission is marked after having pre-diabetes blood sugar levels for three months, without the use of blood sugar-lowering medication. This level would be determined through a hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) test, which shows what your average blood sugar level has been over the past three months.

While reversal and remission are possible, a cure is not. Because blood sugar levels can go back to diabetes levels even after achieving reversal or remission, type 2 diabetes is essentially not curable. That is why type 2 diabetes is considered a chronic disease.

How Can You Reverse Type 2 Diabetes? 

Type 2 diabetes can be reversed or put in remission in a few different ways. Lifestyle changes that include diet, exercise, and weight loss may be helpful.

Weight Loss

Being overweight or having obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Of course, not everyone who is overweight or who has obesity will develop type 2 diabetes. Likewise, not everyone with type 2 diabetes is overweight or has obesity.

For those with type 2 diabetes who are considered overweight or to have obesity, weight loss is a main factor in diabetes reversal and remission.

While weight loss can happen through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, people may also lose weight with weight loss surgery. There are several weight loss surgery options that make changes to your digestive system as a way to promote weight loss. Weight loss surgery isn’t for everyone, but for those whose healthcare providers recommend it, the procedure can help get blood sugar levels to appropriate levels.

In fact, metabolic surgery can immediately improve glucose levels among patients with obesity. Metabolic surgery is effective in reversing diabetes because the surgery leads to significant weight loss.

Dietary Changes

Along with weight loss, if necessary, nutrition is the other main lifestyle change that can lead to normal blood sugar levels in the long term.

What you eat can directly impact your blood sugar levels. That’s especially true with carbohydrates. The sugar in your blood comes from carbohydrates, so the more carbs you eat, the higher your blood sugar might be.

There is no one-size-fits-all diet or meal plan for type 2 diabetes. With the help of your healthcare provider, you can determine what works best for you.

Overall, it is recommended that people with type 2 diabetes eat a diet rich in non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, and unprocessed foods, with minimal added sugar or refined grains. 

The diabetes plate method is an easy tool to help prepare blood sugar-friendly meals. Half of your plate should be filled with a non-starchy vegetable, the other two quarters are divided between lean protein and carbohydrates. When it comes to hydration, water is your best bet. But unsweetened teas and coffees and diet soft drinks are good choices too.

There are specific diet types that have been shown to help control diabetes, including the Mediterranean diet (a diet rich in ) and intermittent fasting.

Exercise

Physical activity is a key part of a comprehensive diabetes management plan. It’s recommended that someone with type 2 diabetes gets at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. This can include walking, swimming, bicycling, and doing housework.

In addition to the 150 minutes of exercise, it is recommended that people with type 2 diabetes do two or three sessions of resistance training each week. There should be no more than two off-days in a row.

Some research has shown that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a beneficial approach to exercise in type 2 diabetes. HIIT is a type of exercise involving intense bursts of physical activity in short intervals. It may be especially effective in improving glucose levels. How intense these bursts should be depends on your previous activity level and health status.

Medication 

While type 2 diabetes remission can only be considered reached after three months of not using diabetes medication, medication can help in the initial reversal of your diabetes. Any blood sugar-lowering medication would have to be stopped to determine whether the reversal would stick for the long term.

The main medications for type 2 diabetes are oral or injectable, both of which lower blood sugar levels.

The type of medication a person is prescribed depends on a number of factors, including: 

  • How well the medication manages your blood sugar
  • What other health conditions you might have
  • How much the medication costs you
  • What your lifestyle is like

The Need for Continued Monitoring

Even though some people might experience a reversal and eventually remission of type 2 diabetes, continuous monitoring is still needed. That’s because their diabetes is not actually cured—it’s just at a point where blood sugar levels are, for the time, at non-diabetes levels.

High blood sugar frequently occurs after someone reaches remission. Levels indicative of type 2 diabetes can reappear due to:

  • Weight gain
  • Stress
  • Continued functional decline of the cells that make insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels

Because blood sugar can increase again, you should have your blood tested at least once a year.

If you need to take medications for other conditions you may have, talk to a healthcare provider about avoiding medications, such as glucocorticoids and certain antipsychotic agents, that can raise blood sugar.

You’ll also need to keep up your lifestyle changes.

A Quick Review 

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic illness that causes high blood sugar. When not properly managed, the high blood sugar can cause complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss. While once thought to be a disease that was irreversible, newer research shows that type 2 diabetes can be reversed, meaning your blood sugar levels can be brought back to levels below the diagnosis criteria for diabetes. 

If that reversal lasts for more than three months without the use of blood sugar-lowering medications, the diabetes can be considered in remission. Whether your type 2 diabetes is in reversal or remission, it is not cured; you still need to be regularly monitored for the disease.

Talk with a healthcare provider about whether reversal is a possibility for you. They will likely mention the key lifestyle components of lowering blood sugar: weight loss, nutrition, and exercise.

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Sources
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