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How to Reverse Diabetes, Say Experts

These lifestyle changes can help prevent diabetes, doctors say
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Over 34 million Americans live with a form of diabetes—a chronic condition that "affects how your body turns food into energy," the CDC states. "Diabetes is caused when the body fails to make or use insulin effectively because there's too much of it in our bloodstream, and not in our cells," says Dr. Shane Kannarr, leading Medical Reviewer for eyesight experts All About Vision, who adds that diabetes can cause severe health problems, including loss of eyesight. 

Dr. Kannarr explains, "Excess blood sugar damages the body's smallest blood vessels, impairing blood flow, which starves the capillaries of the tissues feed. Leading to leaking blood vessels, swelling and a number of other health concerns, not only in the eye but the entire body. These leaks can impact and damage the retina, leading to vision impairment and blindness if left untreated. Excess sugar can also impact the lens of the eye, causing cataracts, or cause neovascularization, the growth of new fragile vessels. Neovascularization can cause glaucoma or hemorrhaging inside the eye." 

That's just one of the major issues it can cause. But while diabetes is a serious condition, there are ways to control it and eliminate most symptoms. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to several medical experts who explained how to help reverse diabetes. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What to Know About Diabetes

Doctor with glucometer and insulin pen device talking to male patient at medical office in hospital.
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According to Socorro Carranza, Nutritionist with Dignity Health Glendale Memorial, "Although diabetes cannot be cured, you can stop the threat of complications dead in its tracks! You can live a long healthy life without ever seeing the complications of diabetes if you know how to battle it. I always tell my clients that they should see it like war. You would never go to war and fight an opponent without first knowing everything about them and how they can hurt you. Fighting diabetes is the same. You have to know what you are dealing with and the mechanism by which diabetes damages the body. The bottom line is that high blood sugar damages your eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Therefore, your goal should be to always keep your blood sugar controlled (American Diabetes Association recommends under a 7% A1C). If you do this, the chances are you will never see any of these complications." 

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2

Stop Eating Processed Foods

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Carranza says, "Limit highly processed foods and dessert foods high in sugar. I know it's hard during this season, but notice I said 'limit.' This means try to have them sparingly, only on special occasions and in small portions. In addition, if you make your own desserts during the holidays, I always encourage adjusting your recipes to make them a little more diabetic friendly by swapping regular sugar for natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit and regular white flour for whole wheat flour."

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3

Know Your Carbs

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"Know what foods contain carbohydrates and learn the portions," Carranza states. "In general, keeping under 60-75g for men and 45-60g per meal for women is a good rule of thumb. Of course, I always recommend meeting with a registered dietitian that is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) to get a better idea of your personal needs."

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4

Stay Active

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Carranza explains, "Physical activity is one of the most effective natural ways to bring down your glucose. Physical activity helps build muscle, which uses more glucose (or 'sugar'). In addition, while you are doing physical activity, your body is using the glucose as its fuel. One session of physical activity can substantially decrease your blood sugar. You don't believe me? Try checking your blood sugar before exercising and after. You will be amazed!"

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5

Manage Your Stress

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"Find ways to manage your stress. Stress can cause your glucose to rise, even if you had a perfect meal," Carranza says. "Learning to manage your stress can be an effective way to also help keep your diabetes controlled. Can you think of things that help keep your stress down? A few ways my clients deal with stress naturally are: dancing, warm baths, reading, meditation, and physical activity."

6

Eat Your Veggies

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Carranza says, "I always recommend filling half of your plate with them for lunch and dinner if you can. Fresh or frozen are best. Avoid canned vegetables if you can. Vegetables are important for two reasons. The first is that they take up space in your plate and in your stomach that otherwise would mostly likely be filled with the foods that contain carbohydrates. When you crowd your plate with vegetables, there is less room for the other foods. Second, vegetables have lots of fiber and very little carbohydrates. Fiber helps slow down digestion, and therefore the absorption of glucose. When foods high in fiber are consumed in a meal, it has been shown that glucose does not peak as high and as quickly.

Remember that diabetes is a disease in which you have the power to control. It doesn't have to control you. Arm yourself with the right tools and put them into practice. If you do, you can live a long, happy life without letting diabetes get in the way of enjoying all of those special moments." 

7

Lose Weight

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"Loss of visceral fat, which is the fat around your organs, can help to prevent diabetes and to put Type 2 diabetes into remission," Laura Isaacson, MS, RD, CD senior lead dietitian for Vida Health reveals. When one loses weight around the pancreas and liver, the beta cells in the pancreas are able to better make insulin, which helps to lower blood sugars. There seems to be more of an impact when more weight is lost, but studies have shown that a weight loss of 7-10% is enough to make a difference. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library, those who receive Medical Nutrition Therapy from a registered dietitian lose 1-2 pounds per week over a 6 month period and up to 10% of body weight over 6 to 12 months. A lower carbohydrate eating plan is an effective strategy to promote weight loss and to lower blood sugars. It is recommended to take an individualized approach to carbohydrate intake with a focus on a level that is sustainable in the long-term. Once weight loss has been achieved, physical activity is helpful for weight maintenance. Additionally, physical activity lowers blood sugar levels and helps insulin to work better in the body. Any activity is beneficial, but the American Diabetes Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week."

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8

Continuous Glucose Monitor

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Isaacson explains, "A Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) can help to better manage blood sugars. A CGM is a device in which a sensor is inserted under the skin, usually in the arm or belly. It continuously monitors glucose levels in the interstitial fluid and sends information directly to a tablet or to a smartphone. An alarm sounds when blood sugars go too low or too high, which helps people to immediately take action. The data can be downloaded to a computer or smartphone, and helps to identify trends in glucose levels. This data helps people with diabetes to make effective changes in diet, exercise, and medications to better manage blood glucose levels. Studies have shown that the use of a CGM in people living with Type 2 diabetes results in a significantly larger 0.35% reduction in A1C compared to those who do not use a CGM."

9

Take Care of Your Mental Health

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"Mental and physical health are closely tied, and addressing mental health helps people to better manage diabetes and lower blood sugars," Isaacson says. "According to the CDC, people living with diabetes are two to three times more likely to experience depression than people without diabetes. Unfortunately, only 25-50% of people with diabetes who are experiencing depression seek treatment, however, treatment with therapy, medicine, or both, is very effective. A referral to a therapist is beneficial for those experiencing anxiety or depression. In addition, over an 18 month period of time, 33% to 50% of people with diabetes will experience diabetes distress. This is essentially diabetes 'burnout' in which overwhelming feelings of dealing with daily diabetes care may cause people to have difficulty managing diabetes. A referral to a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist can help a person living with diabetes to develop problem solving skills to cope with diabetes distress. Addressing mental health helps people living with diabetes to better stick to their diabetes care plan."

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10

Tweak Your Diet

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Jehan Riar, M.D. Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville – Lutherville, MD, Board Certified: Internal Medicine explains, "I wouldn't say that reversing diabetes is the best word, but preventing and improving it can be done with diet control. The best way to prevent diabetes or improve your control is by making small tweaks in your diet. Don't drink your calories. Try to avoid or limit your bread intake. If you are eating a sandwich or a burger, take the top piece off. You may look funny eating it, but it is less carbohydrate intake. Remember, all sugars are not sweet. Carbohydrates are found in sweet foods like cakes and pastries and also in breads, pasta, and rice. Take pasta out of your diet if you can. It is never filling and you always eat way more than you should!"

11

Surgery

In extreme cases, surgery might be the answer. Dr. Ani Rostomyan is a Doctor of Pharmacy, Holistic Pharmacist and Functional Medicine Practitioner who specializes in Pharmacogenomics and Nutrigenomics consulting says: "Bariatric surgery, Gastric bypass, Gastric sleeve, show better outcomes long term than Gastric banding. If patients who have BMI of 35 or higher, if they have had type 2 Diabetes for less than 5 years, don't use insulin, they can discuss the option with their physician since there are also serious health risks involved."

Dr. Sepehr Lalezari, MD is a Bariatric Surgeon in Los Angeles with Dignity Health St. Mary adds, [Bariatric surgery] "is quite effective in resolving diabetes and getting patients off all medication to where 25-30% of patients will have long term resolution of their diabetes. Diabetes is associated with vision loss, kidney damage which may lead to dialysis dependence,  amputation of limbs, paralysis of the stomach, poor wound healing, loss of sensation, and quite a few other problems as well so it's imperative for patients to get their diabetes under control. Patients who are morbidly obese also have many other obesity related health conditions which Type II diabetes is one of. Weight loss helps improve blood surgeries control and may even help reverse diabetes. Patients with a BMI of 35 or greater with diabetes or any other obesity related health condition qualify for bariatric surgery.  Or >40 regardless of any other condition. Patients struggling with weight loss should discuss their options with their physician or a bariatric specialist. With medical weight loss up to 15% reduction in body weight is possible. With surgery up to 80% reduction in excess body weight is achievable. Even a 10lb weight loss will help to improve blood glucose control."

12

Intermittent Fasting

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Dr. Rostomyan says, "Intermittent fasting can aid in reversal of type 2 Diabetes. If practiced prudently, it helps with weight loss and lowering insulin levels, improving insulin sensitivity, increasing fat oxidation and lowering oxidative stress. Intermittent Fasting is not for all patients with type 2 Diabetes, since it may pose risk of low blood sugar episodes and may not be suitable for everyone. Best is to discuss the option with a Health Care provider and safely incorporate it."

13

Drink Water

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Dr. Kannarr explains, "Drinking plenty of water can also help keep your blood sugar levels low. Staying hydrated will help your kidneys flush out the excess sugar through the urine, and help reduce your risk of diabetes. Surprisingly, stress can affect your blood sugar levels too. Managing your stress through exercise or relaxation methods like yoga as well as mindfulness can help you regulate blood sugar levels."

14

GLP-1

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Dr. Chris Damman, MD MA  Clinical Associate Professor of Gastroenterology at the University of Washington Chief Medical Officer & Scientific Officer at UR Labs/Muniq, says, "Both bariatric surgery and diet may work by helping reset glucose regulations set points through hormones in the body. GLP-1 is one key hormone, and drug versions of this hormone are given as medical therapy shots for diabetes. Diabetes controlled by the drug however does not meet the definition of remission as individuals remain dependent on a pharmaceutical therapy indefinitely."

15

Eating Fiber

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According to Dr. Damman, "Dietary fiber is also a key regulator of GLP-1 and works through the microbiome to produce factors that naturally increase GLP-1.  Studies have shown that diabetes rates are lower in people that get sufficient fiber and fiber intervention studies show a decrease in hemoglobin A1C through GLP-1.  Studies that rigorously evaluate prebiotic fiber combinations will help support next generation nutritional approaches to diabetes remission. Companies like URLabs are leading the charge and have products like Muniq that are currently being evaluated." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more
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