Short answer: Yes. Long answer: It depends – and even when possible, it may be difficult.
increasingly research finds that in some instances diabetes may be reversed, or – to use the parlance more commonly associated with cancer – a person may be able to achieve remission. That is, in some people previously diagnosed with diabetes, their blood sugar is now back in a non-diabetic range without medication.
That’s exactly what happened for more than one-third (36%) of participants randomly assigned to a weight management program, according to a two-year follow-up of a trial published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology in March. The most recent follow-up of the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial, or DiRECT, assessing the impact of intensive weight management in primary care concluded, “Sustained remission was linked to the extent of sustained weight loss.” Nearly half (or 46%) of those in the intervention group had achieved and sustained remission at one-year, according to previous follow-up research published in The Lancet in 2018. The research involved individuals 20 to 65 years old who’d had diabetes for less than six years at the outset of the study.
Precisely who may be able to bring diabetes into remission and when it’s possible – let alone achievable for most individuals – remains unclear. Given that lack of clarity around when, and to what extent diabetes remission is possible, controversy still exists around how to discuss diabetes reversal. But, experts say that the early-going in the disease course seems to offer the best opportunity for potentially reversing the disease. And some clinicians and researchers say this should be more of an aim in primary care for patients who are newly diagnosed with the disease.
“It’s not impossible at all to reverse diabetes,” says Dr. Peter Arvan, chief of the division of metabolism, endocrinology and diabetes at the University of Michigan. Certainly, though, experts are quick to point out that often what it takes to do so, such as wholesale changes to completely alter the way one eats and shifting one’s schedule to prioritize exercise, can be challenging to say the least.
Although there’s no guarantee that you’ll reverse diabetes with weight loss and lifestyle changes, either, there’s no downside to making healthier choices. And to manage the disease – whether it’s possible to achieve remission or not – you’ll want to work closely with your health care team.