Learning to live with type 2 diabetes is no small task — it can require some pretty significant diet changes and a whole lotta discipline to maintain new healthy habits.
Which is why it’s only natural to get super excited when you hear whispers that the condition may be reversible. So what does science actually tell us?
Experts have long considered T2D to be chronic and incurable. However, a growing body of evidence now suggests it might be possible for some people to reverse their diabetes after all.
Intrigued? Us too. Here’s everything you need to know about reversing T2D.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which your body doesn’t process glucose, or blood sugar, the way it should.
Typically, when blood glucose levels rise, your pancreas pumps out insulin to move glucose from your bloodstream into your cells, where it can be used for energy.
But if you have T2D, your pancreas doesn’t make as much insulin as your body needs, or your body becomes resistant to insulin’s effects. That can cause glucose to build up in your blood, leading to high blood sugar.
Many experts now agree it’s possible to reverse T2D so that your blood sugar levels fall back into the normal range. Some people may be able to reverse it with lifestyle changes, while others might need medical interventions (more on those below).
But there’s one important thing to keep in mind:
When you reverse type 2 diabetes, you’re sending it into remission. In other words, it isn’t cured — it’s simply controlled to the point that your blood sugar levels stay normal without medication.
You’ll still need to have your blood sugar checked and get tested for complications like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as eye and kidney problems.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and watching your weight are all considered effective ways to keep your T2D symptoms in check and slow the disease’s progression. Actually reversing it, though, calls for more intense measures.
Here are three of the most promising science-backed options:
1. Eat a very low calorie diet
Not ideal, we know. Researchers have found that severe calorie restriction can help people with T2D lose a significant amount of weight and reverse their condition — at least for about 2 years.
Calorie counts vary among the studies, but according to a recent review, people who reversed their T2D ate between 600 and 900 calories per day. In some cases, low calorie diets have been shown to reverse insulin sensitivity in as little as 7 days.
There are some obvious downsides here (aside from the fact that this sounds like something Matthew McConaughey would do to lose weight for a role).
Most research subjects who have tried low calorie diets have ended up regaining the lost weight, causing their blood sugar levels to go back up. Even if you manage to stick with calorie restriction, it could pose a risk for nutritional deficiencies over time.
2. Eat a low carb diet
Some research suggests that eating fewer carbs could be as effective as slashing your overall calorie intake.
Your body breaks down carbs into glucose, which is what causes your blood sugar to rise after you eat. So it makes sense that limiting your intake could help keep those blood sugar levels in a healthier place.
To date, there have been more than 30 high-quality studies looking at whether low carb diets might be helpful for reversing T2D. The basic consensus? The fewer carbs people eat, the more successful they tend to be.
Ultra low carb diets aren’t perfect, though — science has not established whether they’re safe in the long term.
Some research has found that eating very low carb could raise levels of bad cholesterol in people with T2D. It also puts people at risk for a rare but life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis.
3. Undergo bariatric surgery
This might seem like an extreme option — it’s a major medical procedure that can be very expensive. However, research has shown that weight loss surgeries like gastric bypass or gastric banding seem to be the most effective way of reversing T2D.
In fact, an analysis of some 135 studies found that 86 percent of patients with T2D either significantly improved their disease or went into complete remission after surgery.
One of the major results of bariatric surgery is weight loss, which is often key for reversing T2D.
But the surgery can also lead to significant improvements in blood pressure, insulin resistance, and cholesterol levels, as well as hormonal processes — all of which play roles in diabetes.
The benefits also seem to last longer compared to those of low calorie or low carb diets: One large study found that half of people with T2D who underwent gastric bypass were still in remission 7 years later.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and watching your weight all play important roles in managing type 2 diabetes. But the best ways to actually reverse the condition seem to be eating a very low calorie or low carb diet or undergoing bariatric surgery.
Reversing T2D isn’t the same as curing it. Even if your diabetes is reversed, you’ll still need to undergo checks to make sure your blood sugar levels aren’t creeping back up into the unhealthy range.
Just remember the big breakthrough here: If you commit to lifestyle changes (and get the OK from your doc for your method of choice), you could potentially dance your T2D right out the door. Everybody clap your hands!