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Can diabetes be cured? Review of therapies and lifestyle changes

April 23, 2017
Diabetes is a condition that affects blood sugar levels and causes many serious health problems if not managed well. The health impacts of diabetes can be limited, but can it ever be “cured”?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that develops when the body destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This means people with type 1 diabetes do not make insulin.

In those with type 2 diabetes, there is a decreased sensitivity to insulin and the body does not make or use as much insulin as it needs. Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 diabetes.

This article reviews therapies and lifestyle changes that can help reduce the effects of diabetes on a person’s health.

It also explores whether these treatments can help “cure” diabetes, or if they are simply helpful ways to manage the condition.

Is diabetes curable?

[adolescent getting his blood sugar tested by a doctor or nurse]
While diabetes cannot technically be cured, it can go into remission.

Medically speaking, there is no cure for diabetes but it can go into “remission.”

Diabetes in remission simply means the body does not show any signs of diabetes. However, the disease is technically still there.

According to Diabetes Care, remission can take different forms:

  • Partial remission: When a person has had a blood glucose level lower than that of a person with diabetes for at least 1 year without any diabetes medication.
  • Complete remission: When the blood glucose level returns to normal, not simply pre-diabetic levels, for at least 1 year without any medications.
  • Prolonged remission: When complete remission lasts for at least 5 years.

Even if a person has had normal blood sugar levels for 20 years, their diabetes is still considered to be in remission rather than “cured.”

There is no known cure for diabetes. The good news is that remission is possible in many cases and can be as simple as making some lifestyle changes.

Managing type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is often diagnosed in childhood. It occurs when the body mistakenly attacks the beta cells of the pancreas, making it impossible for them to produce the insulin necessary to use sugars.

This can be a daunting diagnosis for someone, yet many people manage the condition well. Some individuals have diabetes that goes into remission after they have followed certain special therapies. These therapies aim to stop the body from attacking the pancreatic cells, allowing it to produce its own insulin.

Use of verapamil

[bottles of pills in a row]
Verapil has been tested in studies for its effectiveness in people with diabetes.

A recent study found that an old blood pressure drug called verapamil may be helpful for people with diabetes.

In the study, people with type 1 or late-stage type 2 diabetes were given verapamil. It was found that their fasting glucose levels were much lower than those who did not take the drug.

The results were enough to warrant a clinical trial. If the results of this clinical trial are positive, verapamil may be more widely used to treat diabetes.

Implantable devices

There has also been research into the use of implantable devices to manage type 1 diabetes.

An implantable device that could protect beta cells in the pancreas has been designed and tested on mice. Researchers found that the device protected a mouse’s pancreatic beta cells from being attacked by the immune system for up to 6 months.

This is a significant length of time considering the life span of a mouse. The research is considered a promising step towards a diabetes-free future for many people.

Further research

The City of Hope’s Diabetes and Metabolism Research Institute also recently announced a project called the Wanek Family Project for Type 1 Diabetes. This is a 6-year project that aims to cure type 1 diabetes. While more research needs to be done in this field, the current outlook for people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is promising.

Managing type 2 diabetes

There is currently a better chance of reversing type 2 diabetes symptoms and putting the condition into remission than there is for type 1. This is because type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disease and a range of outside forces can affect it.

Dietary intake and obesity both play a big part in type 2 diabetes. As such, reversal is possible in people who adhere to certain lifestyle changes.

Research into reversal methods

A recent pilot study found that certain interventions can help put type 2 diabetes into remission, including:

  • personalized exercise routines
  • strict diets
  • glucose-controlling drugs

Four months after the intervention, 40 percent of the subjects were able to stop taking their medications, staying in partial or complete remission.

Lifestyle changes for type 2 diabetes

There are two main lifestyle changes that people can make to help manage type 2 diabetes. These are explained here:

Exercise and weight loss

A good diet and regular exercise are the first steps to managing conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. In fact, weight loss is the cornerstone of treatment for people with type 2 diabetes.

Research has shown that physical activity combined with modest weight loss can reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes by up to 58 percent.

Moderate exercise is considered 150 minutes a week of aerobic activities, including:

[happy older woman swimming in a pool]
Swimming and other moderate forms of exercise are a good way to manage the symptoms of diabetes.
  • swimming
  • brisk walking
  • bicycle riding

It is possible to meet this target by doing a 30-minute session 5 days a week. This may be enough to help the body manage diabetes symptoms.

Diet tips

Diet tips for controlling type 2 diabetes:

  • Limit carbohydrates: replacing carbohydrates with high-protein and high-fiber foods will help regulate blood sugar.
  • Eat less sugar: Sugar replacements such as stevia may help some people manage diabetes symptoms.
  • Fiber-rich food: Fiber can help slow the digestion of carbohydrates and sugars.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine also recommend eating a wide variety of foods as part of every meal, including:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • whole grains
  • proteins
  • low-fat dairy products

A varied diet ensures the body is getting all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. People are also recommended to eat fewer calories and try to eat similar amounts of carbohydrates at each meal.

Foods high in healthy polyunsaturated fats, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils are also highly recommended.

Surgery

If making dietary changes and doing exercise are not possible or successful, weight loss can be achieved by bariatric surgery. This type of surgery involves reducing the size of the stomach, which helps people feel full. Some types of surgery also change a person’s anatomy and may alter hormones that contribute to weight gain.

Gastric band surgery and gastric bypass surgery are two common examples of this medical intervention. There are risks involved with these surgeries, so they are not usually seen as the first option.

Outlook

While there are no medical cures for diabetes, some very promising treatment methods are being researched.

New treatment options are being developed that could bring relief to even more people with diabetes. Working directly with a capable doctor may help people find treatment options that could put their diabetes into remission.

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