Can you cure diabetes? Frustratingly, science still hasn’t discovered a permanent cure for diabetes. However, if you have type 2 diabetes, lifestyle changes can help you return your blood sugar levels to the normal range and put your diabetes into remission. There are also innovative minimally invasive procedures that can help improve your diabetes management without the need for medication.
Many people with type 2 diabetes are worried about the long term implications of living with a chronic condition, needing to take medication, and the health complications of diabetes. The good news is that losing weight, changing your diet and living an active life can help return your blood glucose levels to normal. With normal sugar levels, you can stop taking diabetes medication and protect your future health. But instead of describing this as curing diabetes, it is known as diabetes remission.
With normal glucose levels and good metabolic health, why don’t we call this curing diabetes? The problem is, there’s evidence that type 2 diabetes can return. That’s why medical professionals describe it as diabetes remission rather than a cure. The good news is that you can reduce your risk of a relapse by keeping your weight in the healthy range, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. It’s all about living a healthy life – sticking to all the things you did to put your diabetes into remission in the first place.
Your diabetes is in remission if your blood sugar levels are below the diabetes range without taking diabetes medication.
International diabetes experts have made a more precise definition for diabetes remission based on your HbA1c levels, the measure of your long-term blood glucose levels.
‘Remission is when your HbA1c remains below 48mmol/mol or 6.5% for at least six months‘.
Some people call diabetes remission ‘reversing type 2 diabetes. It can be confusing-but whatever term you use, whether it’s diabetes remission, reversing type 2 diabetes, or curing diabetes without medication, they all refer to the same thing: your blood tests show that your HbA1c remains below 48 mmol/mol or 6.5%. Biochemically your blood glucose is the same as someone without diabetes.
You can put your diabetes into remission and achieve normal glucose levels without medication. It’s easier to achieve diabetes remission if you take action soon after diagnosis. Lifestyle changes can help you keep your blood sugar levels in the normal range. You can treat type 2 diabetes without medication by focusing on:
According to UK government figures, around nine in ten adults with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to develop type 2 diabetes. People with severe obesity have a greater risk than obese people with lower BMIs.
Weight around your middle can be a particular problem. Fat can build up around your organs, affecting the function of organs like the liver and pancreas and increasing your risk of developing diabetes.
The good news is, if you’re obese, losing a large amount of weight- around 15 kg- and sustaining that loss can restore your blood sugar to normal levels, reduce your risk of developing diabetes complications and improve your life expectancy.
If you want to lose weight to achieve diabetes remission, it’s essential to talk to your GP or diabetes team. As you change your diet, you may need to reduce your medication to prevent hypos. Rapid and significant weight loss is not advisable if you’re already a healthy weight, have had an eating disorder in the past, are under 18, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Research shows that people with type 2 diabetes have put their diabetes into remission by losing weight following different eating methods. These include:
This diet is not about piles of pasta and pizza. Instead, it focuses on fresh seasonal produce, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats. It can help you achieve a healthy weight and decrease your risk of getting heart disease, depression and dementia.
Cut down on:
Low and very low-calorie diets (VLCD) of between 800 and 1200 have been shown in research to help you lose weight and put diabetes into remission. Studies have shown success with different diets, all of which restrict calories. The diets include:
The Newcastle diet: A medically supervised VLCD of 600 calories a day based on meal replacement shakes and non-starchy vegetables. In a Newcastle University study funded by Diabetes UK, 11 people with diabetes cut their food intake to 600 calories a day for eight weeks. After three months, seven of the people in the trial were in diabetes remission.
8-week Blood Sugar Diet: A diet of 800 calories a day for eight weeks. It focuses on a low carbohydrate, Mediterranean way of eating. The diet builds on the research in Newcastle University but offers greater flexibility and choice of when and what to eat.
Low-carbohydrate diets: Low-carbohydrate diets like the Atkins encourage your body to burn fat instead of glucose as fuel. They ban sugar, pasta, bread, grains, starchy vegetables and sugary fruit. Instead, your diet should focus on meat, fish, eggs, plenty of leafy vegetables and salads, dairy produce and healthy fats and oils.
The first two weeks of the diet are strict and can be challenging. Weight loss can be rapid as you lose stored glycogen and water. But you may experience ‘carb flu’ and feel sluggish, weak and unwell. After this stage, you should have increased energy, fewer hunger pangs and much more stable blood glucose levels. In research, low carb diets were associated with a 32 percent increase in diabetes remission.
Meal replacement diets: Very low-calorie diets using meal-replacement shakes and soups.
Even if you don’t put your diabetes into remission, weight loss can make a real difference to your health. Diabetes UK says:
‘We know that losing even 5% of your weight helps improve HbA1c, blood pressure levels and cholesterol. This can have a big impact on your overall health and how you feel.’
Not everyone who develops type 2 diabetes is overweight. Your age, ethnicity and family history all contribute to your diabetes risk. The problem is, you can’t change your background and your genetic heritage- so, it’s sensible to focus on the things you can do to make a difference.
Exercise can improve your fitness, support weight loss and help your body use insulin more effectively. When you’re exercising, your body is more sensitive to the insulin you produce. Regular exercise can help you live well with diabetes and put your diabetes into remission.
Try to introduce more activity into your life. You don’t have to don lycra and pay for expensive gyms; walking, swimming, cycling or dancing can all be important parts of living an active life.
Careful glucose monitoring is a vital part of controlling your diabetes. It can help you see the way your food, drink and activity affect your sugar levels. If you recognise patterns, you can improve your blood glucose levels, maintain your health and reduce your risk of developing diabetes complications.
Your diabetes team should give you a target HbA1c and support you to achieve that goal. If your HbA1c remains below 48mmol/mol or 6.5% for six months without medication, your diabetes is in remission.
Innovative minimally invasive techniques can help improve your diabetes control and reduce your need for medication. Endoscopic duodenal mucosal resurfacing or DMR is a procedure in which a specialist physician removes the surface of part of the small bowel lining. This ground-breaking keyhole procedure can improve blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes mellitus irrespective of weight changes. However, you will need repeat treatment every two years.