According to the World Health Organization, 4.7% of adults globally were diabetic in 1980. By 2014, that number had risen to 8.5%. Much of that rise has been in low- to middle-income countries, where, unfortunately, people are exercising less, and eating more processed and high carbohydrate foods.
But fortunately, there have been recent studies, mostly from Europe, showing that, at least in the earlier stages of diabetes, the condition can be reversed (or put into “remission”).
While there is still no cure, the research is showing that some people who now require medication to keep their blood glucose under control, can stop medication if they take certain steps. The most important step is significant weight loss.
Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes
There are two types of diabetes, and the type we are discussing here is Type 2 (sometimes referred to as T2D). This type occurs in 90% of all diabetics, and most often starts in adulthood due to poor lifestyle habits. The less common Type 1 diabetes, is an autoimmune disease that typically starts in childhood, and with our current knowledge, is not reversible.
What causes T2D
While genetics can contribute to developing diabetes, the most common causes are poor diet and a lack of physical activity. Many diabetics are overweight or obese. When people eat too much sugar, and exercise too little, their pancreas, which produces insulin, is overworked, and over time basically wears out. Another factor is “insulin resistance”, meaning their cells becomes resistant to the effect of insulin. The (diminished) insulin they do produce does not work very well, and their blood sugar levels rise. (The main function of insulin is to push glucose from the blood into our cells, where it can be used as fuel.)
How T2D can be reversed
The most recent study published on the subject was in the British medical journal Lancet. The study involved a large number of diabetics throughout the United Kingdom. All were overweight or obese, but none were on insulin. Half the participants were put on a strict diet combined with increased physical activity. The other half (the “control”) continued standard treatment, without a weight loss diet or more exercise.
After a year, only 4% of the control group went into remission, meaning they no longer needed diabetes medication. For the group put on a diet and greater exercise, an impressive 46% went into remission. What caused the remission was weight loss, and the more weight they lost, the greater the chance of remission.
More weight loss=Higher remission rate
The participants who lost 5 to 10 kg over the year had a 34% rate of remission. If they lost 10-15 kg., their remission rate was 57%. Patients who lost 15 or more kg. had an 86% remission rate!
If you are diabetic
If you are diabetic, or pre-diabetic, and overweight, there is a good chance you also can reverse your diabetics and go into remission. Note however that if you have had diabetes more than 10 years, the chance of remission is much lower, because your pancreas has likely already suffered too much damage.
If you want to try this diet and exercise approach, discuss it with your doctor, particularly if it means stopping diabetes medication. He can monitor your blood sugars (or HA1c levels) to measure your progress. Finally, note that bariatric surgery can caused many patients to go into remission, but this is a more radical approach. A healthy, low-calorie diet combined with more activity and exercise is the preferred initial approach.
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