Some people with type 2 diabetes can manage their disease by making healthy food choices and being more physically active. Many people with type 2 diabetes need diabetes medicines as well. These medicines may include diabetes pills or medicines you inject under your skin, such as insulin. In time, you may need more than one diabetes medicine to control your blood glucose. Even if you do not take insulin, you may need it at special times, such as during pregnancy or if you are in the hospital.
Researchers from Newcastle and Glasgow Universities believe they have found a way to effectively reverse type 2 diabetes, without requiring a new kind of drug or invasive surgery. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how a person’s body metabolizes sugar, either because they’ve developed resistance to the hormone insulin, or their pancreas fails to produce enough insulin.
“Diabetes type 1 is very different from your standard disease. Insulin requirements vary greatly from one day to another and there is no way patients can know what they need,” Roman Hovorka, Professor at the University of Cambridge, explained to me during an interview. His research group is working on the development of an algorithm that can accurately predict insulin requirements for a specific patient at any moment.
Together with evidence of normalization of insulin secretion after bariatric surgery (84), insights into the behavior of the liver and pancreas during hypocaloric dieting lead to a hypothesis of the etiology and pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes (Fig. 6): The accumulation of fat in liver and secondarily in the pancreas will lead to self-reinforcing cycles that interact to bring about type 2 diabetes. Fatty liver leads to impaired fasting glucose metabolism and increases export of VLDL triacylglycerol (85), which increases fat delivery to all tissues, including the islets. The liver and pancreas cycles drive onward after diagnosis with steadily decreasing β-cell function. However, of note, observations of the reversal of type 2 diabetes confirm that if the primary influence of positive calorie balance is removed, then the processes are reversible (21).
Others have also changed their lives through the diet. Carlos Cervantes, 53 and from the US, was at death's door when he tried it. He weighed 120kg, suffered a heart attack in spring 2011, his eyesight and kidneys were failing and he faced having an infected toe amputated. He even had fungus growing out of his ears, feeding on his ultra-high blood sugar levels. But after seeing a TV report on the Newcastle research, he started eating only 600 calories a day, replacing the supplements with not just vegetables but fruit, lean chicken, turkey, occasional bread and a daily milkshake. Two months later he had lost 40kg and 18 months later he is still free of his type 2 diabetes.
What are the symptoms of prediabetes? People typically do not have symptoms of prediabetes, which is partially why up to 90% of people don’t know they have it. The ADA reports that some people with prediabetes may develop symptoms of type 2 diabetes, though even many people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes show little or no symptoms initially at diagnosis.
Your diabetes care team may recommend that you use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM is a wearable device that can measure blood sugar every few minutes around the clock. It's measured by a thread-like sensor inserted under the skin and secured in place. Sensors can stay in place for about a week before they have to be replaced and are accurate enough to replace frequent finger-stick testing. The more frequent CGM blood sugar readings can help you and the care team do an even better job of troubleshooting and adjusting your insulin doses and diabetes management plan to improve blood sugar control.
Formal recommendations on how to reverse type 2 diabetes in clinical practice must await further studies. In the meantime, it will be helpful for all individuals with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes to know that they have a metabolic syndrome that is reversible. They should know that if it is not reversed, the consequences for future health and cost of life insurance are dire, although these serious adverse effects must be balanced against the difficulties and privations associated with a substantial and sustained change in eating patterns. For many people, this may prove to be too high a price to pay, but for those who are strongly motivated to escape from type 2 diabetes, the new understanding gives clear direction. Physicians need to accept that long-term weight loss is achievable for a worthwhile proportion of patients (96). In the United States, diabetes costs $174 billion annually (97), and in the United Kingdom, it accounts for 10% of National Health Service expenditure. Even if only a small proportion of patients with type 2 diabetes return to normal glucose control, the savings in disease burden and economic cost will be enormous.
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That is the goal of Imcyse, a French company running a clinical trial with an immunotherapy designed to stop type 1 diabetes. Patients that have been diagnosed within the last 6 months, who still retain some insulin-producing cells, are given a treatment designed to make the immune system destroy the specific immune cells that are attacking insulin-producing cells. Results are expected later this year and will reveal whether the treatment has the potential to become a cure.