One of the most common questions asked about diabetes: Can diabetes be reversed?
If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with diabetes, you may be wondering, can diabetes be reversed? In this article, we’ll look at both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes and answer the question if they can be reversed?
Can you cure diabetes?
There are many things touted as a diabetes cure. But, do they really work?
First, let’s consider the many things we see called a diabetes cure, that in reality most of us know are just too good to be true. Everything from herbs, to spices, to elixirs, to supplements have had this label attached to them.
And, it’s just false. No supplement, or anything similar, can cure diabetes. There are certain supplements that may help you manage your diabetes, but they won’t cure it.
But, then we also see people who say they changed their diet, or they started a new exercise routine, or they lost weight, and their diabetes was cured. Again, my opinion is that this is not true. Keep reading to understand why I feel this way and what I think these people are really experiencing.
Can type 1 diabetes be reversed?
Before we go any further, I do want to briefly address type 1 diabetes. Because, most of this article is going to focus on type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease. Once diagnosed, that person will have type 1 diabetes for the rest of their life. Type 1 diabetes cannot be reversed.
*There is a period of time at the beginning of type 1 diabetes diagnosis called the honeymoon phase. This is when the beta cells (that produce insulin) in the pancreas have started to die off, but are still able to produce some amount of insulin. This honeymoon phase if caught early, can be extended, but my previous statement remains true. At some point, all insulin production by the pancreas will stop, and that person will have type 1 diabetes for the rest of their life.
Can type 2 diabetes be reversed?
Now, back to type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes…
Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease and over time management strategies will change. This is normal and expected because over time more and more damage to the pancreas can occur if lifestyle adjustments are not made.
Now, earlier I referenced that diabetes could not be cured. Once a person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (either because of a blood glucose value or a HgbA1c test) we know that the pancreas has suffered damage and/or the effectiveness of the insulin produced by the pancreas has declined. From this point forward, people can manage diabetes a number of different ways:
- Stress management
When people mention their diabetes has been cured, they almost always are referring to the fact that they have been able to use strategies other than medication to bring their blood glucose levels back down to normal.
But, “cure” is not the right word to use here (in my opinion). These people are simply able to manage their diabetes in a way that does not involve medication.
I prefer not to use the word “cure” and prefer terminology like ”reverse” or “manage” instead, because of the progressive nature of type 2 diabetes I referenced above. More often than not, people with type 2 diabetes will need medication to manage their diabetes at some point in their life. It’s simply the nature of the disease. This is not something to be ashamed of. Yet, many people perceive going on medication as a failure. And, I do think referring to managing diabetes with lifestyle factors as a “cure” contributes to this sense of failure when medication is needed down the road.
How long does it take to reverse type 2 diabetes?
So, can diabetes be reversed? Can you bring blood sugar levels back down to normal ranges? Absolutely! For some people, this may happen quickly in a matter of weeks or months, and for others it may be a longer journey of a few years.
Can type 2 diabetes be reversed permanently?
Can you get rid of diabetes permanently? Again, my answer to this is technically no, but this also depends on what you mean by “get rid of.” This typically refers to not needing medication. You will manage diabetes through other ways: blood sugar friendly diet, exercise, stress management, etc.
*I do also want to note here, that needing medication at any point of your diabetes journey does not mean you have failed. Some people need medication at certain times and some do not. It is just the nature of the disease. And, many times whether you do or do not need medication is outside of the factors we can control.
How much weight do I need to lose to reverse diabetes?
Some people will be able to reduce blood sugar levels through weight loss, while others will not. This is very much an individualized response that is often falsely touted as being a for sure fix for everyone.
What about reversing pre-diabetes?
Pre-diabetes is a bit of a different story though. If you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes it means there is some altered function to the pancreas and to insulin effectiveness, but not as much. For many people, if caught at this stage and lifestyle adjustments are made, pre-diabetes can be managed without medication for a long time.
How long does it take to reverse pre-diabetes? This depends on the person and different individual factors.
Now that we’ve answered the question “can diabetes be reversed?”, let’s look at diabetes complications.
Diabetes complications: can they be reversed?
Diabetes complications refers to a group of medical conditions that can develop as a result of living with diabetes over time. These include: retinopathy, neuropathy, kidney disease, heart disease, and others. Some of these conditions can be reversed and some cannot. Here are some of the most frequent questions I get asked…
Can diabetic neuropathy be reversed?
Can diabetic nerve damage be reversed? No. Damage that occurs to nerves as a result of diabetes (often in the feet and hands) cannot be reversed. The human body does not have the ability to repair nerves. There are many treatments that can help with the pain associated with neuropathy though.
Can diabetic retinopathy be reversed?
Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common complications of diabetes. More than half of people with diabetes develop it. It cannot be reversed (in most cases), but it can be managed and stopped from progressing if caught early enough. Read more about my experience going to the eye doctor here.
Can erectile dysfunction caused by diabetes be reversed?
Believe it or not, elevated blood sugar levels over time can lead to erectile dysfunction. However, once blood sugars are brought back down to normal levels either through medication or lifestyle changes, symptoms will improve.
What foods can reverse diabetes?
Just like no one food will cause diabetes, no one food (or set of foods) can reverse diabetes.Changing your diet in an effort to reduce blood sugar levels or reverse type 2 diabetes involves approaching food in a different way. I cover this in another post that details what should be on your plate every time you eat… not what you should take away.
For more information on managing diabetes and living life while balancing blood sugars, make sure to check out my Diabetes 101 section specifically developed for people living with all types of diabetes. And, if you love cookbooks and want to learn how to still enjoy all the foods you love, check out my book The Easy Diabetes Cookbook.