A shocking report this week revealed that one in 10 Britons over 40 have type 2 diabetes. A record 4.7million people now live with the condition in the UK, which is double the number 20 years ago.
For years, doctors said medication for life was the only option for an illness which always got worse.
But a growing body of research has shown that it is in fact possible for a type 2 diagnosis to be reversed.
With changes in diet and weight loss, it’s possible to get your blood-sugar levels back into the normal range so you no longer need to take drugs every day.
Here is what you need to do…
Shed some weight
This is the absolute key. Not only can shedding pounds help you manage type 2 diabetes, if you lose enough you could live diabetes-free.
This is particularly true for people who have had the disease for only a few years and have not needed to take insulin.
A very low calorie diet is your best option
Pioneering research at Newcastle University last year found that around half of type 2 diabetics can reverse the condition by sticking to an intensive low-calorie diet of around 800 calories per day, living mostly on meal replacement drinks for two to five months until a weight goal is achieved.
That is followed by a less restricted diet to help keep the pounds off for good.
Half of those who took part in the study kept their blood-sugar levels normal for up to a year afterwards.
But don’t go it alone
This type of extreme diet needs medical supervision so a visit to your GP is the first step and a dietician will usually get involved, too.
Most people who succeed on this type of diet lose at least two stone (13kg) and at first it will seem like a very tough regime indeed. But the hope of reversing a type 2 diagnosis is a powerful motivation.
Success will be life-changing – and could be life-saving.
Started as soon as possible
Studies have shown that people who have not had type 2 for long are the most successful at reversing it. So it’s vital to start a weight-loss diet as soon as possible after the diagnosis.
But even if you’ve had diabetes for a long time and can’t manage to reverse it, then significant weight loss will also help enormously with controlling its severity.
It will also massively reduce your risk of developing some of the terrible side effects of uncontrolled diabetes, including blindness and circulation loss leading to foot amputation.
For people with what’s known as pre-diabetes, weight loss can prevent the onset of the full-blown condition. So if blood tests have revealed that you have raised blood-sugar levels, losing weight now could mean you will never develop type 2.
A growing body of research supports the idea that intermittent fasting – going without food and drink for a set amount of time – can help reverse type 2 diabetes. This type of regime has become more popular in recent years thanks to the 5:2 diet, devised by Dr Michael Mosley.
He has written about how he reversed his own diabetes diagnosis by controlled fasting.
In one small study last year, three people with diabetes followed a diet of three 24-hour fasts each week for several months. On fast days they were allowed to have water and very low calorie drinks, such as tea, coffee.
The only meal allowed was a very low-calorie one eaten in the evening. All of the volunteers lost at least 10 per cent of their body weight and were able to stop injecting insulin – one after just five days – thanks to their lower blood-sugar levels.
If you are interested in intermittent fasting, reading The Fast 800 by Dr Michael Mosley is a good place to start, but you should always consult your doctor before starting any diet or stopping any medication.
Get your body moving
Exercise has also been shown to lower the high blood-sugar levels that trigger diabetes.
In one study, people with diabetes were asked to walk 10,000 steps a day (that adds up to around two-and-a-half hours of moderate exercise a week) and also cut 500 calories from their daily diets.
After six weeks, more than half had reached near-normal blood sugar levels without their diabetes medication.
If all else fails, consider gastric bypass surgery
If you are very obese and have a BMI (body mass index) of 35 or higher, you might be a good candidate for a gastric bypass – surgery that reduces the size of your stomach and changes your digestive process.
This limits how much you can eat and reduces the number of calories you absorb.
Aside from the resulting weight loss, this procedure also appears to help reverse diabetes in other ways too – although scientists are not sure how yet. One theory is that the surgery permanently changes chemicals in the stomach in a way that helps the body control its blood sugar better.
A recent study of over 20,000 patients found that gastric surgery reversed diabetes in 80 per cent of cases. Rapid improvement in blood sugar control is often seen straight after surgery, even before significant weight loss has happened.
The operation appears to be most successful for people who have had a diabetes diagnosis for five years or less and who don’t use insulin.
3 more changes that might help
- Get to bed on time – Studies suggest that sleep deprivation increases high blood-sugar levels.
- Switch to the Mediterranean diet – A study published in the British Medical Journal found that sticking to this kind of diet (plenty of fruit and veg, lean meat and fish, wholegrains, nuts and pulses) can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by more than 80 per cent.
- Stop smoking – It ups your risk of diabetes by 40 per cent. The more you smoke, the higher your risk. Speak to your GP for help giving up.