Can You Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?
With the right combo of diet and exercise, you can get back to living symptom (and medication) free again. Here's where to start.
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May 13, 2020 • 4 min read
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 34 million Americans have diabetes (about 1 in 10), and approximately 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes. While this chronic condition can be genetically inherited (as is the case with type 1 diabetes), type 2 diabetes more often develops as a result of weight gain and unhealthy lifestyle choices. If you’ve recently been diagnosed or told that you’re at risk, you’re likely wondering if it’s possible to reverse type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes.
The short answer is most likely, but it’s a complicated thing. “‘Reverse’ or ‘cure’ are both misnomers,” says Michael Quartuccio, MD, an endocrinologist at Rochester Regional Health. “Type 2 diabetes can go into remission but because it’s a chronic illness, it can come back. You can’t ‘cure’ yourself of diabetes merely by losing weight. If your habits reverse, you’re at a higher risk of it returning. It’s always lurking in the background, but you can get off your medications and live a symptom-free life with weight loss, diet, and exercise.”
Step #1: Get Moving, 4 Times a Week
You’ll want to start by understanding your body mass index, or BMI. “It’s a relation of your height to your weight,” says Dr. Quartuccio. “We’re looking for a BMI level of less than 25, which is considered normal weight for your height. Anything from 25 to 29.9 is overweight. If the BMI is 30 or above, that’s obese. Many patients with diabetes are in overweight and obese range.”
To decrease your BMI, you’ll want to focus on your diet and exercise level. “I ask my diabetic patients to do at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise, four days per week,” says Akankasha Goyal, MD, an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health. “You should be pushing hard enough that your heart rate increases during the workouts.”
As for your diet, Dr. Goyal recommends having multiple meals in frequent intervals, but with smaller portions of food. She also notes that you should check your blood sugar multiple times per day if you’re on insulin, and at least once per day if you’re on pill medications. Even if you’re able to ultimately reduce or eliminate your medication, you’ll always need to monitor your blood sugar levels to ensure the diabetes is staying in remission.
Step #2: Eat More Plant-Based Foods
Dr. Goyal says Type 2 diabetics should avoid sugary foods that will spike their blood sugar immediately. Instead, try to compose plates that are half protein, one-quarter veggies and the remaining quarter should be starches or carbohydrates. “If you’re having a salad, you can have potatoes or rice, but you have to be mindful of the portion,” she explains. The protein should also be more plant-based than animal-based. “It’s healthier than animal protein and there’s more fiber in plants, which is better for you.”
Dr. Quartuccio also advocates for moving towards plant-based protein. “We see less heart disease and lower cholesterol in patients who eat more plant-based proteins,” he shares. “That higher fiber content, in addition to keeping you fuller longer and eating less, means less carbs are absorbed—they pass through your system quicker, which is also better.”
Step #3: Be Mindful About Your Fruits
Lastly, try to eat whole foods. “Eat the fruit, don’t drink the juice,” Dr. Quartuccio explains. “Supermarket juices are processed, removing all the pulp and fiber, along with all the health benefits, too. If you’re juicing fruits yourself, that’s something different. If you’re diabetic, you don’t have the ability to just eat all the fruits you want because they are healthier. They’re still sugars. I’d prefer to have people eat more veggies, especially if they’re high in fiber.” If you’re looking for high-fiber foods, artichokes pack a whopping 10 grams per medium-sized plant, while carrots, beets, broccoli, collard greens, and Swiss chard are all fiber-rich.
Bottom line: If you stick with healthy habits, it’s possible to reverse type 2 diabetes over time. If your doctor prescribes a medication to help manage your blood sugar like metformin (Glucophage XR), glimepiride (Amaryl), glipizide (Glucotrol XL), or injected insulin, be sure to check if you can get it at a discounted price and delivered free through Blink Health.
This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or dial 911.
Blink Health is not insurance. The discount prescription drug provider is Blink Health Administration, LLC, 1407 Broadway, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10018, 1 (844) 265-6444, www.blinkhealth.com.
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