Can You Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?

If you've recently learned you have Type 2 Diabetes, you'll welcome the news that it's not necessarily a lifelong sentence. In fact, Type 2 Diabetes can actually disappear if the person loses the recommended amount of weight. The bad news? Diabetes typically returns if the person gains back the weight, says endocrinologist Stuart Weiss, MD, of NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

"Simply put, the bottom line if you want to reverse diabetes is diet and exercise," says Weiss. "If people do so, the diabetes goes away but if the diet and exercise stop and the weight comes back, so does the diabetes."

According to NYU Langone Medical Center bariatric surgeon Christine Ren, MD, some 80 percent of Type 2 Diabetics are obese-and Americans are growing obese at a younger age.

"Forty years ago, people did not get overweight until they were in their 40s and 50s," she says. "Now people become overweight as teenagers, and close to 70 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese."

What typically happens with a newly diagnosed Type 2 Diabetic, Weiss says, is that he's motivated to lose the necessary weight as recommended through diet and exercise. But after a few months or a year, the weight creeps back up at the same time that the diabetes returns.

"This is very common, because lifestyle is a very hard thing to change," Weiss explains. "People have their friends who they hang out with and eat with, and when they're feeling well, they are tempted to go back to the old behaviors with their old friends."

One option for diabetics who simply cannot keep the weight off is surgery, either gastric bypass or gastric banding, says Ren. "Research has found that of the people who had this surgery, 40 percent had normal blood sugar afterward, another 40 percent had improved blood sugar, and 20 percent stayed the same.  In the first year, close to 90 percent of the patients either had remission or significant improvement of their diabetes."

She explains that of the two procedures, gastric bypass is the more severe and risky. It involves cutting the stomach into two parts so that food bypasses the small intestine. A person who has undergone gastric bypass surgery feels full more quickly and eats a lot less.

"Gastric banding also gives great results," Ren says. "For this, a ring about the size of a half dollar is put around the top of the stomach and tightens or squeezes it, so the person does not feel as hungry."

Obviously surgery is not a first choice option, though it can be highly effective. It's worth discussing with your doctor if you cannot keep weight off.

Below are some tips to keep the weight off and the diabetes at bay:

  • Seek out friends who are not "food-oriented," recommends Weiss. Instead of going to a movie where you'll be tempted to fill up on high calorie popcorn and soda, go bowling or for a hike instead.

  • Try eating six small meals a day, suggests Ren. This is a good strategy if you tend to get hungry in between meals. Pay attention to portion control and don't overdo with non nutritious food, obviously.

  • Ask your doctor about medications that help decrease the appetite, says Weiss. Byetta not only improves blood sugar but has a side benefit of weight loss, he explains, and Victoza reduces both blood sugar and weight.