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How to reverse type 2 diabetes naturally

There are plenty of things you can do to help manage and reverse type 2 diabetes without using medication, such as making changes to your diet and lifestyle. Like with any change to your health, consistency and determination are key.
Louise Carleton
5/11/2022
13
min read
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Quick summary

  • Type 2 diabetes can be reversed naturally without the use of medication
  • You can help to reverse type 2 diabetes by following a nutritious, well-balanced diet, losing weight, exercising, changing certain lifestyle habits like smoking, and getting plenty of sleep
  • Reversing type 2 diabetes sends the condition into remission but it doesn’t guarantee that the condition won’t develop again later in life, so it’s important to make sure you keep up your healthy habits to stop this from happening

We believe that a healthy life is a happy life but knowing what constitutes a healthy life isn’t always clear. It can often feel as though we’re bombarded with conflicting information on what’s good for us and what’s not. It can be particularly confusing when it comes to understanding and managing illnesses and conditions like type 2 diabetes. Scientific research has confirmed that it is possible to reverse type 2 diabetes in up to 60% of people living with the condition.[1] Here, we’re going to look at all the ways you can manage, treat, and reverse a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes… naturally. When we talk about ‘natural methods’, we mean methods that don’t rely on medication but instead focus on bringing about changes to your health and lifestyle, so you can regain control of your health.

If you’re currently taking medication to manage your diabetes then you should talk to your doctor before stopping any medication. All the methods we’ll explore today can be used safely alongside your current diabetes medication.

Rethink your diet

Research has shown that losing weight is a significant factor in reversing type 2 diabetes.[2] When we’re overweight, internal fat covers our vital organs making it harder for them to do their job properly. This is particularly true of the pancreas where fat stores stop the organ from producing insulin; this is why being overweight is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. But patients who lost a significant amount of weight—on average 15kg— are able to shed this fat so the pancreas can once again start producing insulin.

There’s no quick fix when it comes to losing weight and it will take a certain amount of grit and willpower to do so but research shows a low-calorie approach like total diet replacement is one of the single most effective methods of reversing diabetes naturally.[3,4]

Taking the first steps towards losing weight can feel daunting, especially if you’ve tried diets in the past and they’ve not worked. When it comes to managing type 2 diabetes with diet, it's important to know that there isn’t a single type 2 diabetes diet that works for everyone. Instead, there are different dietary options and eating approaches you may want to try. Ultimately, it's important to find a way of eating that suits you—this includes your lifestyle (family, work etc), your health goals, and your budget. Our overview of different diabetes diets includes evidence from scientific studies into some of the more well-known dietary options, such as low-carb, keto, vegan, and total diet replacement.

Type 2 diabetes can be reversed in up to 60% of people

Taheri et al., Lancet

Of course, changing your eating approach is no mean feat—especially if you've got a pretty fixed routine. Here are three things you can do to help you transition your daily diet:

1. Set yourself goals ✅

Keep yourself focused and on track by setting yourself achievable health goals. If we set ourselves big goals they’ll feel impossible to achieve and we’re likely to fail before we even start; instead, consider using the SMART goal setting technique.[5] Any goal or target you have should be:

Specific. Make sure your goals are clear and well defined

Measurable. Make sure you can measure how well you’re doing along the way

Achievable. All goals should be attainable 

Realistic. Make sure your goals are relevant to your life and not in the realm of impossibility

Timely. Give yourself a clear time frame and a deadline when you want these goals to be achieved.

2. Build a support network 🤝

Surround yourself with a strong support network that can keep you motivated and pick you up if you fall down. Changing how you eat isn’t easy but having people around you who are aware of your goals and committed to helping you achieve them will make all the difference. You might also find it helpful to connect with other people who have type 2 diabetes; a good place to start is by asking your doctor about local support groups. 

3. Celebrate your success 🎉

Be sure to celebrate your successes, no matter how big or small they might be. Any weight you lose or habits you change is a step in the right direction to regaining control of your health and deserves to be celebrated! But remember, if you have the odd slip-up here and there, try not to be too hard on yourself; we’re all human and we all have days where we need a break… and a treat! Give yourself some leeway for days like this; the most important thing is that you’re able to get back on track afterwards.

Lower blood sugar levels with exercise

Going hand in hand with eating well, exercise is key if you want to lose weight and reverse diabetes naturally. While all exercise is good for your mind and body, 30 minutes of daily exercise that gets your heart rate up and your blood pumping will help you burn calories and fat, a key element when it comes to losing weight. 

Exercise also naturally lowers your blood sugar levels by drawing on sugar reserves that are stored in the muscles and the liver to use as a source of energy. After you’ve finished exercising, your body replenishes these stores with sugar that’s found in the bloodstream and can continue to do so up to 48 hours after exercising.[6] Alongside a well-balanced diet, regular exercise can help keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range, which, if maintained, can go on to contribute to type 2 diabetes reversal.

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Cut back on alcohol

For many of us, alcohol is a way to relax and unwind. And while the odd glass of wine here and there won’t hurt, if you have type 2 diabetes you might want to reconsider your relationship with alcohol.

When we drink, the majority of ethanol (the main component of alcohol) goes straight to the liver where it’s converted to fat. A fatty liver is bad news for health in general but particularly so for people with diabetes when we remember that fat in the liver increases the chances of insulin resistance and raises blood sugar levels.[7] Alcohol is also packed full of calories—on average a small glass of wine contains 100 calories and a pint of beer 200, which will have a big impact on the progress of your weight loss, and therefore reversal, journey. 

Alcohol also affects how we sleep (more on that later) but you’ve probably noticed that after drinking you tend to fall into bed and fall asleep almost instantly. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve had a good night's sleep, in fact, quite the opposite is true. Drinking stops our bodies from going into our natural sleep patterns, particularly REM sleep, which is our most restorative sleep phase and crucial to things like learning and retaining memories. Lack of sleep makes it harder for us to regulate our emotions, making us feel more emotional and hampering our ability to control things like hunger pangs and cravings.

Alcohol can also seriously affect our decision-making abilities. When we drink, our judgement becomes impaired which is why we might say or do things we normally wouldn’t. If you’re watching what you’re eating, alcohol can lower your resolve. The effects can also stretch into the following day too; hangovers might have you feeling too unwell to exercise or your body might start craving junk foods in an attempt to replace all the energy burnt from the previous day’s alcohol consumption.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep

We briefly touched on the relationship between sleep and alcohol but getting a good night’s sleep plays a much bigger role in helping to naturally reverse type 2 diabetes. Lack of sleep can affect our ability to lose weight.[8] Two hormones work in the body to regulate our appetite. One hormone is called leptin and is the hormone responsible for making us feel full, and the other is ghrelin, which is responsible for making us feel hungry. Research has shown that patients who had even one night of poor sleep had high levels of the ghrelin hormone and decreased levels of the leptin hormone [8]. We’re sure you don’t need us to tell you that if you’re trying to follow a diet or healthy eating plan this is going to make things much harder!

A single night of sleep deprivation increases feelings of hunger

Schmid et al., J Sleep Res

If you are sleep-deprived it’s also harder to make healthy decisions. When we’re tired it’s normal to feel more emotional than usual with research showing that being deprived of sleep enhances our negative responses and subdues our positive reaction to events.[9] When we’re feeling low it’s easier for us to make poor decisions and, for many of us, using junk food as a form of comfort is second nature.

Try to give up smoking 

Nicotine can lessen the effectiveness of insulin which means you’ll require more insulin to keep your blood sugar levels balanced.[10] Smoking can also cause inflammation to cells throughout the body which again affects insulin production, and can cause further stress and exacerbate other health conditions.

Smoking can elevate blood pressure, making it harder for blood to get pumped around the body. Similarly, over time, diabetes affects blood vessels around the body which also leads to worrying blood pressure levels that may lead to a stroke or a heart attack.

Reversing type 2 diabetes naturally is possible

Reversing type 2 diabetes can be achieved naturally by making small, sustained changes to your lifestyle. By finding the right diet that suits your lifestyle you can safely lose weight to help your body naturally regulate blood sugar levels. Reversing type 2 diabetes naturally isn’t always easy but through dedication and commitment, you’ll start to reap the benefits and discover a healthier, happier you in the process.

References

[1] Taheri, S., Zaghloul, H., Chagoury, O., et al. (2020) Effect of intensive lifestyle intervention on bodyweight and glycaemia in early type 2 diabetes (DIADEM-I): an open-label, parallel-group randomised controlled trial. Lancet 8(6):477-489. Accessible here.

[2] Hallberg, S. J., Gershuni, V,M., Hazbun, T. L., Athinarayanan, S,J. (2019). Reversing Type 2 Diabetes: A Narrative Review of the Evidence. Nutrients 11(4): 766. Accessible here.

[3] Lemieux, I. (2020). Reversing Type 2 Diabetes: The Time for Lifestyle Medicine Has Come! NCBI. Accessible here.

[4] Churuangsuk, C., Hall, J., Reynolds, A., et al. (2021). Diets for weight management in adults with type 2 diabetes: an umbrella review of published meta-analyses and systematic review of trials of diets for diabetes remission. Diabetologia 65:14-36. Accessible here.

[5] How to write SMART goals. Atlassian. Retrieved 1 April 2022. Accessible here.

[6] Colberg, S.R., Sigal, R.J., Fernhall, B., et al.(2010). Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 33(12): e147–e167. Accessible here.

[7] Diabetes and Alcohol. Diabetes.co.uk. Retrieved 1 April 2022. Accessible here.

[8] Schmid, S.M., Hallschmid, M., Jauch-Chara, K., Born, J., Schultes, B. (2008). A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men. J Sleep Res 17(3):331-4. Accessible here.

[9] Vandekerckhove, M., Wang, Y. (2018). Emotion, emotion regulation and sleep: An intimate relationship. AIMS Neurosci 5(1):1-17. Accessible here.

[10] Bajaj, M. (2012). Nicotine and Insulin Resistance: When the Smoke Clears. Diabetes 61(12): 3078–3080. Accessible here.

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