Diabetes awareness: can type 2 diabetes be reversed? It’s complicated

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and although there is typically a focus on preventing diabetes and prediabetes, many people are still faced with a diagnosis of diabetes. (Montri Thipsorn, Shutterstock)

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SALT LAKE CITY – Did you know 10.5% of the US population has diabetes? That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, and the numbers are increasing every year.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and although there is typically a focus on preventing diabetes and prediabetes, many people are still faced with a diagnosis of diabetes.

After diagnosing type 2 diabetes, some people may ask, “How can I get rid of my diabetes?” The answer is not that straightforward.

Can type 2 diabetes be reversed?

Can people with type 2 diabetes get rid of or reverse the disease? In short, not exactly.

However, according to a 2019 study, a small percentage of people with type 2 diabetes can achieve normal blood sugar (sugar) levels or normoglycemia, especially if they have had bariatric or metabolic surgery or have lost a significant amount of weight.

In type 2 diabetes, the cells that produce insulin, known as beta cells, no longer work properly. There is usually insulin resistance, which means that the cells in your body don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use the glucose in your blood for energy.

Diabetes remission can help beta cells work again, which increases insulin sensitivity. The chances of helping the beta cells return to normal function are best in the early stages after a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Still, blood sugar levels can rise again over time, especially when bad lifestyle habits return and weight is regained. Because of this, diabetes is not considered “cured” or reversed.

What is the correct term when someone with type 2 diabetes has normal blood sugar levels?

In August 2021, a joint consensus statement was published by the American Diabetes Association, the Endocrine Society, the European Association for the Study of Diabetes and Diabetes UK

This consensus statement recognized that there is no standardized term or definition to describe the rare occurrence of extended normoglycemia in people with previously diagnosed type 2 diabetes who are not taking blood sugar lowering drugs.

Terms such as “inversion” or “cure” are often used in these circumstances, but are sometimes associated with controversial claims. The new standardized term is “remission”.

How is diabetes remission defined?

Hemoglobin A1C is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar level over the past 3 months. Doctors often use the A1C to diagnose diabetes and to see how well someone is handling their diabetes.

The joint consensus statement defined diabetes remission as an A1C value of less than 6.5% for at least 3 months without the use of blood sugar-lowering medication. This is true regardless of whether this is achieved through a lifestyle change, metabolic surgery, or otherwise.

If A1C is not a reliable marker of blood sugar control due to certain health conditions, a fasting glucose level of less than 126 mg / dL or an estimated A1C level of less than 6.5%, calculated from the continuous glucose monitor values, can be used.

The importance of regular health checkups

Even if someone is in remission, it’s important to get regular glucose tests as high blood sugar levels can recur.

Risk factors that increase this possibility include poor eating habits, lack of physical activity, weight gain, use of certain medications that can increase blood sugar levels, or high stress from another illness.

Even after remission, the classic complications of diabetes such as retinopathy (disease of the retina), nephropathy (kidney disease), neuropathy (nerve damage) and the risk of cardiovascular diseases due to the so-called metabolic memory can occur.

Still, since you may not notice the symptoms of high blood sugar levels at first, it’s important to get regular (at least annually) exams from your doctor, who includes an eye exam, kidney function tests, foot exams, blood pressure measurements, and HbA1c test.

Remaining in remission

Type 2 diabetes remission is not a one-time goal that you achieve. It’s a lifelong journey. Whatever means you have used to achieve remission, you must hold and carry on. If not, the inflammation and insulin resistance that caused type 2 diabetes in the first place can return easily.

Some ways to help someone stay in remission while providing numerous other health benefits include:

  • Make healthy food choices
  • Stay physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Practice self-care

About the author: Brittany Poulson

Brittany Poulson is a Utah Registered Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She shares her passion for health, food and nutrition on her blog, where she encourages you to live healthy lives in your own unique way. To contact Brittany or to read more articles, visit her author page.

Editor’s Note: Everything in this article is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended, and should not be interpreted, as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your doctor or other qualified health care provider with questions about any medical condition; All opinions, statements, services, offers or other information or content that are expressed or made available are those of the respective author (s) or distributor (s) and not of KSL. KSL does not endorse and is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of the opinions, information or statements in this article. KSL expressly disclaims all liability with regard to actions taken or not taken as a result of the content of this article.


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