Many people living with diabetes often wonder if diabetes remission is a possibility for them. Well, for most people, this is an achievable goal. If you are lucky enough you can go for years without taking any diabetes medication but still maintain normal sugar levels if you are willing to put in the hard work. This article will show you how.
Type 2 diabetes is a serious chronic condition that can cause debilitating effects. It can be lifelong and get worse over time for many, but only the flip side, it can also present no problems when it goes into long-term remission.
Most people embrace a triad approach to treating Type 2 diabetes; medication, diet, and exercise. Some lucky few are able to drop off their medication and still maintain normal blood sugar. But research shows that many people can be able to achieve a similar level of success in the management of diabetes.
Is diabetes reversal the same as diabetes remission?
Remission is often confused with diabetes reversal. However, the two mean totally different things. Whereas reversal implies that one is completely cured of diabetes, remission means that a person is living symptom-free for a long duration of time without being on medication. With remission, there is always the awareness that the disease might recur. Our article on the difference between diabetes reversal and remission explains it better. You can read it here.
What is diabetes remission?
Diabetes remission occurs in people suffering from Type 2 diabetes; it means that you can maintain normal blood sugar levels without needing to take any diabetes medication. Diabetes remission is not a cure for diabetes. The term remission means that Type 2 diabetes might come back, or it might not. Also, if one resumes normal diet and lifestyle (unhealthy) then their blood sugar is likely to spike.
In 2009, the American Diabetes Association defined Type 2 Diabetes as follows:
Partial remission, complete remission and prolonged remission as
- Partial remission: blood sugar which does not meet the classification for Type 2 Diabetes; fasting blood glucose 5.5 – 6.9 mmol/l for at least 1 year.
- Complete remission: normal glucose values i.e. fasting blood glucose < 5.6 mmol/L for at least 1 year.
- Prolonged remission: normal glucose values i.e.
fasting blood glucose < 5.6 mmol/L for at least 5.
For all the three categories listed above, the patient must have been off all diabetic medication for the given duration of time. According to the American Diabetes Association, when a person combines diet and exercise with blood sugar lowering medication such as Metformin they do not qualify for remission.
Remission can be achieved after bariatric surgery or by making drastic dietary and lifestyle changes.
How To Achieve Diabetes Remission
1. Weight Loss
Losing weight around the waist can significantly increase your chances of remission.
Before embarking on a weight loss journey, it is important to first consult with your healthcare provider. This is to make sure it’s safe for you, especially if you have other health conditions. You might also need help in determining which weight loss approach works best for you.
To understand how losing weight can cause remission, we need to draw the link between being overweight and Type 2 diabetes. The fat that builds up around the midsection is dangerous because it surrounds important organs like the liver and pancreas. This makes it more difficult for those organs to work properly, leading to Type 2 diabetes.
Research has shown that almost 50% of individuals with type 2 diabetes can achieve remission to a non-diabetic state through weight loss. This has been associated with early and sustained improvement in the functioning of pancreatic beta cells.
However, not everyone who develops Type 2 diabetes is overweight. Other factors such as age, ethnicity and family history come into play as well. These factors influence how well the liver and pancreas work, and also where we store our fat. As much as we cannot change these factors, we can influence diabetes type 2 by altering the factors within our control.
Also, not everyone who loses extra weight will go into remission. However, weight loss on its own has significant health merits for a diabetic person. This may mean having to take fewer meds and having less risk for complications.
2. Making Drastic Diet and lifestyle changes
Research has shown that a low-calorie diet could help people lose weight and go into remission. Other than promoting weight loss, switching to a non-inflammatory diet can also reduce insulin resistance. Metabolic inflammation is a key driver for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Improving insulin sensitivity can trigger remission. For more on non-inflammatory diets, you can read out the article here.
Lifestyle changes such as taking up regular exercise will also help to achieve weight loss.
3. Weight loss surgery for diabetes remission
Bariatric surgery can also help one to achieve remission. What bariatric surgery does is to actually help one to eat less and achieve healthy and sustainable weight loss. Bariatric surgery is not a quick fix for obesity and diabetes. However, in a few circumstances, your doctor may recommend this approach. Note that before approval you have to show dedication and discipline that you will be able to stick through the weight loss program.
What To Do When You Are In Remission
Diabetes remission may mean different things for different people. For others, it may last for a year before it recurs again while for others it may disappear for extended periods of time. However, it comes with reduced blood sugar, better cholesterol levels and reduced blood pressure for most people. These signs are an indication of better health outcomes in the long run.
Once you are in remission, you should strive to maintain the positive health habits that triggered the remission in the first place. Keep going to your regular check-ups and speak to your healthcare team if you’re worried about anything or have any questions. Maintain a positive and hopeful spirit as you work towards achieving prolonged remission.
- Diabetes UK: What is diabetes? Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/what-is-type-2-diabetes
- Diabetes UK: Diabetes Remission. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/treating-your-diabetes/type2-diabetes-remission#remission%20research
- Science Daily (2018): Why weight loss produces remission of type 2 diabetes in some patients. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180802141722.htm