Diabetes reversal has become a subject of interest in many quarters; patients, clinicians, and researchers are looking for ways to nip this rising epidemic in the bud. And very soon, Big Pharma may be forced to take a harder look at their diabetes management approach.
A recent study by the University of Cambridge is pointing at weight loss as The Ultimate for diabetes reversal. But before getting to this study, let’s define the terms.
What Is Diabetes Reversal?
Diabetes reversal means that a person previously diagnosed with diabetes is now able to maintain normal blood sugar levels without the use of diabetes medication. It also implies that this person can have a regular non-diabetic diet without spiking glucose levels.
Diabetes reversal is mostly associated with type 2 diabetes which is influenced by diet and lifestyle factors.
Weight loss is has been linked to the reversal of type 2 diabetes in previous studies as well. This is because excess fat in the body affects the production of insulin and sensitivity to insulin as well.
Other research has shown that bariatric surgery can reverse type 2 diabetes effectively.
Study Linking Diabetes Reversal To Weight Loss
A clinical trial that was conducted by New Castle University showed that nearly 50% of individuals with type 2 diabetes achieved reversal after a weight-loss intervention that was conducted for six months.
The study involved 280 participants with type 2 diabetes. Half of them were put on a strict weight-loss program with restricted calorie intake through a liquid diet. Throughout the study duration, the participants did not take diabetes medication. The other half of the group continued with usual care of diabetes medication.
After one year, 46% of people in the diet group achieved reversal which means normal blood sugar levels without taking medication
One notable observation was that the people who had achieved reversal had sustained improvement in pancreatic beta-cell function. This research appears to show that weight loss can revive these cells so that they work well again.
The study revealed that the response is associated with an improvement in the functioning of pancreatic beta cells. These are the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. If beta cells can be “re-awakened” through weight loss, many diabetes patients can regain control over their blood sugar levels and return to a non-diabetic state. These results were astonishing as it was earlier believed that beta-cell function is irreversibly lost in patients with type 2 diabetes.
The study also found that people who had been recently diagnosed stood a better chance of reversing their diabetes. The mean age for those who didn’t achieve reversal was 3.8 years while the mean for those who succeeded was 2.7 years. This further stresses the importance of early diagnosis and intervention.
Why Is Diabetes Reversal Important?
People can live with diabetes for many years. However, a number of factors make diabetes reversal very appealing. They can be categorized into two groups: non-life threatening and life-threatening factors.
Non- Life-Threatening Risks of Diabetes
Once a person receives the diagnosis, they have to be on life-long medication, unless reversal happens. This can be painstaking on many fronts. There is the high cost of purchasing diabetic medications. Also, there is the inconvenience of having to take meds on a daily basis. When you fail to take meds or eat an appropriate diet, there is the risk of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. These two can present with the following symptoms:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Presence of ketones in the urine (ketones are a byproduct of the breakdown of muscle and fat that happens when there’s not enough available insulin)
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent infections, such as gums or skin infections and vaginal infections
Long-term complications of diabetes develop over a period of time. When they come about, they may pose a life-threatening challenge. They include:
- Cardiovascular disease. Diabetes increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis).
- Nerve damage. High sugar levels in the blood can injure the walls of blood vessels that nourish the nerves. This will lead to a gradual loss of sensation in the limbs which are mostly affected. This can eventually lead to a complete loss of sensation.
When the nerves in the gut are affected, a person may suffer from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, it may lead to erectile dysfunction.
- Kidney damage. Diabetes can damage the vessel in the kidneys that filter out compounds from the urine. When these compounds build up in the kidneys, they will cause toxicity and kidney damage in the long run. Kidney failure is the hallmark of end-stage kidney disease. This will call for regular dialysis or kidney transplant which can be very costly.
- Alzheimer’s disease. Type 2 diabetes has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Looking at the possible complications that may come with the diagnosis of diabetes, reversal seems the only safe way out.
- Mayo Clinic: Diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371444
- Healthline: Is Diabetes Type 2 Reversible? https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes-reversible
- Springer (2011): Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalization of beta-cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00125-011-2204-7
- New Castle University: Reversing type 2 diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.ncl.ac.uk/magres/research/diabetes/reversal/#publicinformation