How to Naturally Reduce the Need for Insulin in Type 2 Diabetes

For some people with the condition, lifestyle changes can help them come off insulin.

Individuals with diabetes have treatment options that will vary depending on the type of diabetes they have. Those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes need insulin to survive because the beta cells in their pancreas don't produce insulin. On the other hand, people with type 2 diabetes use insulin as one more tool to control blood sugar.

However, if you have type 2 diabetes and your healthcare provider puts you on insulin, using the treatment method may not necessarily be a permanent one. 

Here's what you should know about insulin and why some people with type 2 diabetes might need it, as well as how they may be able to stop using it.

The Role of Insulin in Type 2 Diabetes

Your pancreas will release insulin when blood sugar, or glucose, is in your bloodstream—per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a hormone, the insulin allows blood sugar to serve as an energy source for the body's cells at the moment or to be used later.

However, when high blood sugar levels are in the body, the pancreas may try to keep up by producing more insulin. Over time, the cells that usually take in the blood sugar ignore the insulin, which is known as insulin resistance. As a result, your body will eventually have an issue producing insulin, creating the basis for type 2 diabetes.

How Does Insulin Treat Type 2 Diabetes?

Even though individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have problems producing insulin, the natural hormone is still present in some amount. Thus, staying on insulin may not always be necessary.

Instead, treating people with type 2 diabetes entails healthy eating, physical activity, and medications. However, if you cannot manage your blood sugar levels with those methods, you will need to add insulin to your treatment plan.

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), you may have to take insulin under certain circumstances, like being treated in the hospital or during pregnancy. Even if your healthcare provider doesn't currently prescribe insulin, that could be the case.

Additionally, insulin can be necessary if glucose toxicity is an issue, essentially an extension of insulin resistance. 

"When the sugar has been running high, it creates in and of itself a resistance to other things to bring it down. It's a term we call glucose toxicity," said William Bornstein, MD, an endocrinologist at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta. "So let's say that somebody comes in and their blood sugar is running pretty high, and they want to try diet and exercise. It's less likely that the diet and exercise will work to bring it down." 

However, once your blood sugar is back under control, you may have the option to come off insulin.

How Do You Naturally Wean Yourself off Insulin?

Starting or returning to a good workout and eating plan can make reducing the insulin dose you take or removing insulin from your treatment plan possible. Surgical treatments are also available if those options do not work or are not possible, depending on your physical health.

Exercising

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that exercise makes your body more sensitive to insulin. That, in turn, can lower your blood sugar for up to 24 hours or more. 

You can start with as little as five to 10 minutes of exercise daily and gradually work your way up as you feel comfortable. You can try walking, running, cycling, swimming, pilates, or a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.

Having a Healthy Diet

Additionally, you can also complement your exercise routine with a healthy diet. Foods you'll want to eat, according to the National Library of Medicine, might consist of:

  • Low or nonfat dairy
  • Produce, like fruits and vegetables (except for starchy vegetables)
  • Proteins, such as lean meats, nuts, beans
  • Whole grains, like quinoa, oats

The ADA also has a great resource about the Diabetes Plate Method, which can help you choose foods and portions that are better for keeping your blood sugar in check.

Undergoing Weight Loss Surgery

"[A] person who is very, very obese or very heavy will find that if they lose a large amount of weight, their insulin requirements or their oral medication requirements may drop tremendously—even disappear," explained Richard N. Hellman, MD, a senior clinical nephrologist and former president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. 

However, that amount of weight loss may not be possible without weight loss surgery, such as bariatric surgery. For individuals with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 35, there is a 1% chance that they will be able to maintain an average weight for a long time, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS). 

At that point, surgery may be the most effective way for weight loss to occur to help treat type 2 diabetes. Per the ASMBS, surgery helps lower blood sugar levels and, in turn, potentially dials back how much you require diabetic medications. 

However, you should speak with your healthcare provider to determine your candidacy for that type of surgery.

Summary

Of note, you don't want to stop taking insulin or any medications for diabetes on your own without consulting your healthcare provider.

The ADA also suggests you talk to your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise regimen. It's also a good idea to discuss significant diet changes with them.

Furthermore, you'll want to ensure that you take any medications to manage your diabetes as prescribed. Checking your blood sugar regularly—for example, daily, after each meal, or according to your healthcare provider's instructions—is also essential for ensuring that they are in a normal range.

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