Several studies in England have looked at the effects of a very low-calorie diet on diabetes. Two had people follow a mostly liquid diet of 625-850 calories a day for 2-5 months, followed by a less restricted diet designed to help them keep off the weight they lost. Both studies found that nearly half the people who took part reversed their diabetes and kept their blood glucose near the normal range for at least 6 months to a year.
Most of the people who reversed their type 2 diabetes lost 30 pounds or more. They also hadn’t had diabetes as long as those who weren’t as successful. So it’s important to get started on a weight loss plan as soon as possible after you’re diagnosed.
When you have type 2 diabetes, cells that help your body control your blood sugar stop working right. Doctors used to think they were shut down for good, but research shows that certain cells may come back. People who lost weight had lower levels of fat in their liver and pancreas, and for some of them, that helped the beta cells in their pancreas that release insulin and control blood sugar start working again.
The odds of rescuing those cells are best early on. That suggests it may be better for doctors to help people lose a lot of weight after a diagnosis, rather than make small lifestyle changes and manage symptoms with medication.
More physical activity is a way to improve diabetes, but it may be tough to lose enough weight to go into remission with workouts alone. When combined with changes to your eating, though, exercise helps. A modest, lower-calorie diet plus a big step-up in burning calories could put you on the path to remission.
A study that had people aim for 10,000 steps a day and at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise a week — along with cutting 500-750 calories a day and following a specific insulin and medication routine — saw more than half of them reach near-normal blood sugar without medication. Some were able to keep those levels long-term, too.
The bottom line: It’s the weight loss that really matters. Exercise can help you get there, but expect to change your diet as well.
This type of surgery helps you lose weight by changing your stomach and digestive system to limit how much you can eat. Aside from helping you lose weight, it may help reverse diabetes in other ways, although scientists don’t yet know exactly why. One theory is that it affects the hormones in your gut to help your body control blood glucose.
Researchers estimate that upwards of three-quarters of people see their diabetes reversed after bariatric surgery. Gastric bypass and gastric sleeve (also called sleeve gastrectomy) surgery have better long-term results than gastric banding.
Bariatric surgery is generally an option only when your BMI is 35 or higher. It works best for people who’ve had the disease for 5 years or less and don’t use insulin.
If you’re obese and recently diagnosed, it’s something to talk about with your doctor. Because it’s surgery, there are serious risks. But most people who have it done end up reversing their diabetes.
Fasting can be a practical way to lose weight because it’s fairly straightforward, but it’s not a mainstream treatment for type 2 diabetes.
A very small study found therapeutic fasting — going without food and drink with calories for a set amount of time — can help reverse type 2 diabetes. Three people with diabetes followed a diet program of three 24-hour fasts each week for several months. They would eat only dinner on days they fasted, and lunch and dinner on days they didn’t fast, focusing on low-carbohydrate meals.
What Doesn’t Work
When it comes to reversing diabetes, there’s no magic pill. If you see a product that claims to cure diabetes or replace your prescribed diabetes medication, beware. The FDA cautions that many illegally marketed things are unproven and possibly dangerous, including:
- Dietary supplements
- Over-the-counter drugs
- Alternative medicines
- Homeopathic products
- Prescription drugs
They found some products that claimed to be “all natural” had prescription drugs that weren’t listed as ingredients. Those could change the way other medications you’re taking work or cause you to take too much of a drug without realizing it.