Is Type 2 Diabetes Reversible?
What to Know
Diabetes is generally thought to be an irreversible, chronic and lifelong condition that worsens over time. Within 10 years of diagnosis, half of people with diabetes must use insulin to control their blood glucose levels. However, that outcome may not be inevitable. Weight loss can sometimes lead to a normalization of blood glucose levels. While this happens most commonly after bariatric surgery, those who follow a very low calorie diet may also experience a remission of their disease. This study was done to determine if that remission continues after resuming a normal diet that maintains the weight loss.
Researchers studied 30 people with type 2 diabetes. Some had had the disease for less than 4 years, while others had lived with diabetes for more than 8 years. First, the participants stopped all their diabetes medications and consumed a very low calorie liquid diet for 8 weeks. Next, they returned to solid foods for 2 weeks. For the remaining 6 months of the study, the participants maintained their weight loss. At intervals throughout the study, the researchers measured each participant's fasting blood glucose levels.
After 8 weeks on the very low calorie diet, the blood glucose levels of 12 of the 30 participants were reduced to the normal range (below 7.0 mmol/L). The results after 6 months were even more significant: 13 of the 30 participants reached the normal range and were able to keep their blood glucose levels at normal, non-diabetic levels. This demonstrates that a robust and sustainable weight loss program produced diabetes remission in 40% of the participants (60% of those who'd had diabetes for less than 4 years).
Some people with type 2 diabetes could experience a remission of their disease with aggressive dieting and weight loss alone, this small study suggests. If true, that could dramatically change how the disease is treated. However, more than half of the study participants saw no remission of their diabetes. Larger studies with more diverse participants need to be done to confirm this study's results.
Very low-calorie diet and 6 months of weight stability in type 2 diabetes: pathophysiological changes in responders and nonresponders, by Sarah Steven and colleagues. Diabetes Care 2016;39:808–815. http://dx.doi.org/10.2337/dc15-1942