Is Type 2 Diabetes Reversible?

Written by Mary Ellen Ellis | Published on July 18, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on July 18, 2014

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a serious and chronic medical condition. It develops mostly in adults, but is becoming more common in children as obesity rates rise across all age groups. Several factors contribute to type 2 diabetes. Being overweight or obese is the biggest risk factor. Type 2 diabetes can be life threatening. But if treated carefully it can be managed or even reversed.

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin. When your blood sugar (glucose) levels rise, the pancreas releases insulin. This causes sugar to move from your blood to your cells, where it can be used as an energy source. As glucose levels in your blood go back down, your pancreas stops releasing insulin.

Type 2 diabetes impacts how you metabolize sugar. Either your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or your body has become resistant to its effects. This causes glucose to build up in the blood. This is called hyperglycemia. There are several symptoms of untreated type 2 diabetes including:

  • excessive thirst and urination
  • fatigue
  • increased hunger
  • weight loss, in spite of eating more
  • infections that heal slowly
  • blurry vision
  • dark patches on the skin

How Is Type 2 Different from Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is similar, but it usually develops during childhood and is largely unrelated to weight or diet. The exact causes of type 1 diabetes are unknown. The most important risk factors are genetics and family history. If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas makes little to no insulin. You need to inject insulin regularly to metabolize glucose.

Type 1 diabetes can be managed, but there is no cure and it cannot be reversed. The symptoms are the same as those seen with type 2 diabetes. Both conditions can cause serious complications if not managed or treated. Symptoms include:

  • heart disease
  • nerve damage
  • atherosclerosis
  • vision problems and blindness
  • kidney damage
  • skin and mouth infections
  • foot infections, which can lead to amputations
  • osteoporosis
  • hearing problems

Can You Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?

Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes monitoring your blood sugar levels and using medications or insulin when needed. Doctors also recommend losing weight through diet and exercise. If you start eating healthier, get more exercise, and lose weight, you can reduce your symptoms. Research shows that these lifestyle changes, especially physical activity, can even reverse the course of the condition. 

Studies that show the reversal of type 2 diabetes include participants who have lived with the condition for only a few years.

Weight loss is the primary factor in patients who have experienced a reversal of type 2 diabetes. Excess fat in the body effects the production of insulin and how it is used. Research has shown that bariatric surgery can reverse type 2 diabetes, but there are less drastic ways that you can lose weight and reduce your symptoms. A commitment to exercise and dietary changes may be all you need.

Get Physical

Starting an exercise routine is important for your overall health, but will also help you lose weight and start to reverse your symptoms. Talk to your doctor before making a plan and keep the following in mind:

  • Start slowly. If you are not used to exercising, start small with a short walk. Gradually increase the duration and intensity.
  • Walk quickly. Fast walking is a great way to get exercise. A brisk walk is easy to do and requires no equipment.
  • Check your blood sugar before, during, and after your workout.
  • Keep a snack on hand in case your blood sugar drops while you’re exercising.

Change your Diet

Improving the quality of your diet is another important way to help you lose weight, manage your symptoms, and reverse the course of your diabetes. Your doctor can help you plan a healthful and balanced diet, or can refer you to a dietitian. A diet that helps you manage or reverse your condition should include:

  • reduced calories
  • the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal
  • healthful fats
  • a variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • lean proteins (poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, soy, and beans)
  • limited alcohol
  • limited sweets

Reversing type 2 diabetes is possible, but it requires commitment to meal planning, healthy eating, and regular exercise. If you can do these things and lose weight, you may be able to free yourself from diabetes and its complications.

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