Many people ask: “How Can I Reverse Diabetes?”.
It sounds too good to be true: Reversing type 2 diabetes through exercise and healthy eating.
No doubt about it: Your lifestyle matters a lot. But whether you can actually “reverse” diabetes is another matter.
If “reversing” means that you don’t need medication anymore, that’s possible. But if you mean turning back time so that it’s like you never had diabetes at all, that may be less likely, depending on how long you’ve had diabetes, how severe it is, and your genes.
Still, exercise and a healthy diet are good for you, especially if you have diabetes, so these are the key steps to talk with your doctor about.
What It Takes
Losing extra weight can help you better control your blood sugar. You’ll need to make this change permanent, though.
For some people, reaching a healthier weight will mean taking fewer medications, or, in rarer cases, no longer needing those medications at all.
“The term ‘reversal’ is used when people can go off medication, but you still must engage in a lifestyle program in order to stay off the medication. That is a part of treatment,” Albright says.
Experts recommend losing 5% to 10% of your body weight and building up to 150 minutes of exercise per week to try to slow or stop the progress of type 2 diabetes.
“If you sit [inactive] most of the day, 5 or 10 minutes is going to be great,” Albright says. “Walk to your mailbox. Do something that gets you moving, knowing that you’re looking to move towards 30 minutes most days of the week.”
In one study, people with type 2 diabetes exercised for 175 minutes a week, limited their calories to 1,200 to 1,800 per day, and got weekly counseling and education on these lifestyle changes.
Within a year, about 10% were able to get off their diabetes medications or improved to the point where their blood sugar level was no longer in the diabetes range, and was instead classified as prediabetes.
Results were best for those who lost the most weight or who started the program with less severe or newly diagnosed diabetes. Fifteen percent to 20% of these people were able to stop taking their diabetes medications.
If you make lifestyle changes and your diabetes continues to progress, it’s not your fault, Albright says.
“The earlier in the course of the disease that you make these lifestyle changes, the more likely you are to stack the deck in your favor that you won’t progress,” Albright says
It’s a myth that type 2 diabetes is only about lifestyle or obesity.
True, most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, but thin people can get type 2 diabetes, too.
Also, “not everybody with obesity gets diabetes. The ones that get it have a genetic predisposition,” says Yehuda Handelsman, MD, a past president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
Your Healthiest Self
Being at your best health should be the goal.
Diet and exercise alone will control diabetes for some people. For others, a combination of medication and healthy habits will keep them at their best.
“If you have been able to manage on lifestyle intervention alone, continue to do that. If you need to go on medication, do what’s necessary to keep your health in check,” Albright says. “You need to take advantage of the treatment that’s going to keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check.