Is it possible to reverse diabetes?

picture of a man checking his blood sugar


The short answer is yes; it's possible for Type 2 diabetes to go into remission. To be in remission, your blood sugar levels must remain normal for at least three months without using glucose-lowering medications.  

"Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease, so we don't say it's 'reversed' or 'cured.' Instead, we say it's in remission," explains endocrinologist Sydney Blount, MD. "Once your diabetes is in remission, you should see your doctor regularly to check for recurrence.

Early diagnosis and intervention are critical in managing Type 2 diabetes. Remission of Type 2 diabetes is more likely if you've been recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, have lower blood sugar levels and have achieved weight loss.

How do I know if I have diabetes?

A person with diabetes has abnormally high blood glucose levels. Your doctor can determine if you have diabetes by doing a blood test to measure the glucose level in your blood. 

"Type 2 diabetes has a strong link to family history," says Dr. Blount. "But environmental factors, like lifestyle, also play a large role."

See your doctor right away if you have any of the following diabetes symptoms:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Excessive hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Blurring vision
  • Numbness in the feet
  • Unexplained weight loss

How is diabetes treated?

Diabetes medications aren't prescribed until you've been diagnosed with diabetes. Many classes of drugs work differently to achieve normal glucose levels. Some of these function by increasing your body's sensitivity to insulin.

"Not everyone with Type 2 diabetes needs treatment with insulin," says Dr. Blount. "Many glucose-lowering medications can be used before insulin, depending on the individual." 

While medications can be helpful, lifestyle changes can induce remission of diabetes and normalization of blood glucose levels without medications. Weight loss improves insulin resistance and glucose metabolism, lowering blood glucose levels into the normal range.

"We don't yet know how much weight a person needs to lose to induce remission," explains Dr. Blount. "It's different for every individual and depends on factors like the duration and severity of diabetes. That's why it's important to discuss weight loss with your doctor."

6 Lifestyle changes to put diabetes into remission

  1. Exercise regularly. Work toward exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Include a combination of light cardio and strength training.
  2. Lose weight using medications, dietary changes, or bariatric (weight loss) surgery as prescribed by your doctor. 
  3. Eat healthily. There's no one-size-fits-all diabetes diet. Start by reducing processed foods and foods high in sugar and carbohydrates. You can also try the Diabetes Plate Method. Or, meet with a  nutritionist or dietitian to develop an individual dietary plan.
  4. Get enough sleep. Aim for at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
  5. Quit smoking. Talk to your doctor if you need help breaking this habit.
  6. Manage sleep apnea. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, get evaluated by your doctor and get treated.

What's the difference between insulin resistance, prediabetes and diabetes?

Insulin resistance occurs when your body doesn't respond well to insulin. It takes more insulin to lower glucose levels into the normal range. Over time, if the pancreas can't produce enough insulin to overcome the resistance, prediabetes or diabetes can develop.

Prediabetes is when you have higher than normal blood glucose levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Prediabetes typically has no symptoms, so it's vital to be screened with blood tests.

"Medications, like metformin, can prevent prediabetes from progressing into diabetes. However, these drugs aren't as effective as making lifestyle changes," says Dr. Blount. "You can prevent and reverse insulin resistance and prediabetes by adopting healthy lifestyle habits. The key is to start making changes early on." 

Want help putting your diabetes into remission?
To make an appointment with our Diabetes and Endocrinology Center, call 800.922.0000.