Reversing Diabetes: Medications and Lifestyle

Nataliya Vaitkevich/

Reversing Diabetes: Medications and Lifestyle

According to the CDC, more than 37 million people in the United States have diabetes, and most diagnosed cases (90-95%) are type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a disease in which the body’s ability to use glucose (its primary energy source) is impaired due to a problem with insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose to move into the body’s cells. Whereas a deficiency of insulin production occurs in type 1 diabetes, typically in children and adolescents, there is no deficit of insulin production in type 2 diabetes. The latter condition develops for several reasons, but one of the primary problems is that the body’s cells become resistant to insulin and are thus unable to utilize it to move glucose into cells. Blood sugar levels will be increased in both conditions. Over time, diabetes can cause serious health problems such as heart disease, kidney disease, vision loss, and amputations. Definitely not an illness you’d want to get if you can prevent it. The good news is that you can prevent it, at least the type 2 version. 

The reason type 2 diabetes is preventable is that it, like many other chronic conditions, is a disease of lifestyle. That’s correct—type 2 diabetes develops due to an unhealthy lifestyle. There are several studies showing that making healthy lifestyle changes can prevent this condition. Moreover, one group of researchers wanted to examine both a lifestyle-intervention program and a prescription diabetes medication called metformin and their effects on preventing or delaying the development of this disease.

Their article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med 2002; 346:393-403). They performed a study in which they enrolled 3234 participants that did not have diabetes and split them into three groups. One group was given metformin; the second group was the lifestyle-intervention group, and the third group was assigned a placebo pill. The individuals in the lifestyle-intervention group consumed a healthy, low-calorie, low-fat diet to maintain a weight reduction of 7 percent and performed moderate-intensity exercise for at least 150 minutes per week.

The results of the study were fascinating. Compared to the placebo group, the incidence of diabetes was 31 percent less in the metformin group. However, the really captivating part was that the incidence of diabetes in the lifestyle-intervention group was 58 percent less than in the placebo group. So, a healthy lifestyle was better at preventing type 2 diabetes than a commonly prescribed diabetes medication—and without any adverse side effects!

Always remember that treating your body well and providing it with healthy foods will significantly lower your risk of developing lifestyle-related diseases.

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