No one wants to visit their physician and discover that their blood sugar level is in the diabetic range. Yet that’s a reality for almost 10% of the population who have a blood sugar in the diabetic range, a disease that carries a high risk of complications. It hasn’t always been that way. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of people with diabetes has almost tripled. What makes this rise so concerning are the health risks associated with diabetes.
How common is poor blood sugar control? Statistics show that one in seven deaths is related to diabetes. No wonder! Elevated blood sugar levels injure blood vessels and organs such as the heart and kidneys. Plus, it can damage your vision and even lead to amputations from blood vessel damage and blockages. Studies show that diabetics have a higher risk of some types of cancer too.
The best way to avoid the complications of diabetes is to do what you can to prevent it and that starts with lifestyle. There is a genetic component to type 2 diabetes, but studies show that lifestyle factors can mitigate genetic risk, including diet and exercise.
One problem that’s fueling the increase in type 2 diabetes is obesity. We know that staying a normal body weight lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but what impact does losing weight have on your future health if you already have type 2 diabetes?
Weight Loss for Blood Sugar Control
Shedding those extra pounds if you’re overweight or obese can have a profound effect on blood sugar control and type 2 diabetes. Losing body fat helps with blood sugar control regardless of how long you’ve had type 2 diabetes. But there’s more good news! You may be able to send type 2 diabetes packing through lifestyle! In other words, it’s possible to send type 2 diabetes into permanent remission even after your doctor tells you that you have it.
A study carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge showing that losing 5-10% of body weight can normalize blood sugars and send type 2 diabetes into remission. If you maintain that weight loss, you may continue to have normal blood sugar levels. However, timing is a factor. The best chance of sending type 2 diabetes into remission is shedding those extra pounds within five years of getting the initial diagnosis. If you can lose 5-10% or more of your body weight during this window period, your odds a long-term remission are higher.
Is it a cure? Scientists are reluctant to use the word “cure,” as you can’t say with reassurance that the elevated blood sugars won’t come back, especially for people who regain the weight. Still, a long-term remission is the next best thing to a cure!
What makes up remission for type 2 diabetes? It means you maintain healthy blood sugar levels without medication. The best way to measure long-term blood sugar control is with a blood test called hemoglobin A1C. This test looks at how much hemoglobin in your blood has is modified by glucose and is a measure of the level of blood sugar control over the past 3 months. Scientists and health care professionals believe that a hemoglobin A1C level of 6.5% or less is consistent with a remission.
Weight loss is a powerful therapy for type 2 diabetes even when you lose it through surgery. In fact, research shows 30 to 60% of people with type 2 diabetes who undergo bariatric surgery to lose weight go into remission.
Follow Your Blood Sugar Levels
Don’t assume because you feel good that your blood sugar is normal. According to the National Institutes of Health, a third of people with type 2 diabetes don’t know they have it because modestly elevated blood sugars often cause no symptoms. Type 2 diabetes is a silent epidemic, but undiagnosed pre-diabetes is also a problem. Around a quarter of adults over the age of 20 have prediabetes, blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not in the diabetic range. These people are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and may even be at risk of developing some complications that diabetics are at risk for.
Since mild type 2 diabetes and prediabetes may not cause symptoms, the only way to know if you have either is to check your blood sugar levels at least every year. Most doctors order a fasting blood glucose level but that only gives you a snapshot of your blood sugar level in time. If you’re at high risk, a hemoglobin A1C is a better test since it tells about blood sugar control over the last 3 months.
Some other “red flags” that increase the likelihood of developing diabetes is having more fat around the waistline. Men are at higher risk if their waistline is above 40 inches while a waist size above 35 inches is a warning sigh for women. Ideally, your waist size should be no larger than half of your height. A rise in triglycerides, blood pressure, and a drop in HDL-cholesterol can also be a sign of insulin resistance and a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The Bottom Line
Despite a genetic component, there’s a lot you can do from a lifestyle standpoint to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes and to send it into remission if you already have it. The most important is to maintain a healthy body weight or lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. Eating a healthy diet that contains little sugar and no processed carbohydrates is a good start. Exercise helps by lowering blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity. It’s encouraging to know that if you develop an elevated blood sugar level, losing weight can help you control it and may even lead to a permanent remission.
- Medical News Today. “Statistics and facts about type 2 diabetes”
- National Institutes of Health. “One-Third of Adults with Diabetes Still Don’t Know They Have It”
- Mayo Clinic. “Type 2 Diabetes”