The internet and popular television fitness shows often mention people who were previously diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but have — through diet, exercise or some other health care regimen — “reversed” type 2 diabetes to become disease-free. But is this possible? Can you actually “undo” type 2 diabetes?
THE ANSWER IS NOT THAT SIMPLE
First, it is important to distinguish between prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Those with prediabetes have blood sugar levels higher than normal (an A1C level of 5.7% to 6.4% or a fasting blood sugar level of 100 to 125), but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Those with type 2 diabetes have a fasting blood sugar level of 126 or higher or an A1C level of 6.5% or higher.
Second, it is important to understand the difference between type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes most often occurs around the 24th week of pregnancy in women who did not have diabetes before their pregnancy. Usually, gestational diabetes is resolved after giving birth, but it is important for women with gestational diabetes to follow their doctor’s recommendations in order to maintain a healthy blood sugar level during their pregnancy.
GESTATIONAL DIABETES AND PREDIABETES
Both gestational diabetes and prediabetes can be prevented from turning into type 2 diabetes. Women with gestational diabetes typically return to normal blood sugar levels after giving birth, and a healthy diet and regular exercise regimen go a long way toward preventing the development of type 2 diabetes. In fact, losing 7 percent of your body weight can make a tremendous difference in managing your blood sugar levels and therefore prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.
TYPE 2 DIABETES
But once someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, can this be “reversed,” essentially making a person a non-diabetic? The answer is not clear. While research is ongoing, there is not enough evidence to provide a road map for reversing type 2 diabetes. However, there are a few things that are clear:
- A healthy diet and regular exercise can help those with type 2 diabetes better manage their blood sugar levels. As a result, they may need to use less medication, but this is not a complete 100 percent “reversal” of the disease.
- Prediabetes can be reversed, and it is much easier to prevent type 2 diabetes than to try to “reverse” the illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control, without significant lifestyle changes, 15 to 30 percent of those with prediabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes is not caused by any one factor. While a poor diet, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle all increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, there are also genetic risk factors for the disease. These risk factors include family history and ethnicity. Those with family members who have type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop it, as are those who are of African-American or Latino ethnicity.
The bottom line? Diabetes is a serious illness that, while there is no cure, can be managed. Regular blood sugar monitoring should be a part of a yearly physical. Any of our physicians will be happy to discuss any concerns or questions you may have about diabetes and diabetes management.