Many people may wonder how to control type 2 diabetes without medications. A healthy diet and lifestyle could help people manage type 2 diabetes and other aspects of their health.

To help people keep blood sugar — blood glucose — within a healthy range, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends:

  • engaging in weight management
  • eating a nutritious diet
  • getting regular exercise
  • stopping smoking
  • reducing stress

If making dietary and lifestyle changes do not help maintain a healthy blood sugar level, doctors may advise a person to take medications. However, if someone receives a diabetes diagnosis as an older adult and their blood sugar is only mildly elevated, medications may not be necessary.

In this article, we examine how to control type 2 diabetes without medication. We also look at the causes of type 2 diabetes and when people may need medication to manage their condition.

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A 2020 study reports that healthy lifestyle practices could benefit people with type 2 diabetes or risk factors for the condition. Such measures may delay or prevent its development, as well as treat or potentially put it into remission. This method of controlling blood sugar can be so effective that the study’s authors call it lifestyle medicine.

The following healthy lifestyle practices may help reduce blood sugar levels:

1. Pursue weight management

In people with overweight or obesity, significant weight loss may reduce blood sugar from the diabetic to the nondiabetic range.

Two ways to manage weight are eating a healthy, balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise. The key to weight loss involves consuming fewer calories than the body uses for activities and physiological processes.

2. Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet consists of eating nutritious foods in appropriate portion sizes while avoiding or limiting non-nutritious foods.

Foods for people to eat may include:

  • whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice, and whole grain bread
  • fruits and vegetables
  • non-fried fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and lake trout
  • lean meat, such as sirloin and white meat from chicken or turkey
  • nontropical vegetable oils, such as olive oil
  • unsalted nuts and seeds
  • legumes, such as beans and peas
  • low fat dairy products

Foods and ingredients for people to limit may include:

  • sugary foods and beverages, such as candy, cakes, jelly, honey, sodas, sweet tea, fruit drinks, and concentrated fruit juices
  • sweet food additives, such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, fructose, and sucrose
  • processed and fatty meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, and fatty cuts of beef and pork
  • salty foods
  • partially hydrogenated and trans fat foods, such as shortening, hard margarine, microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, desserts, and coffee creamer
  • saturated fat, such as foods containing palm oil or coconut oil

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • nuts
  • olive oil
  • fatty fish

A 2020 review notes that following this eating plan improves blood sugar control.

3. Get regular exercise

Exercise promotes blood sugar management and burns calories, which contributes to weight loss. Physical activity also increases insulin sensitivity, which helps blood sugar to enter the cells from the bloodstream.

People should aim to get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day on most days, totaling at least 150 minutes each week. Experts classify a brisk walk as moderate exercise. Alternatively, 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity is equally beneficial.

4. Stop smoking

Doctors advise people to stop smoking to help blood sugar control for several reasons. Smokers have a 30–40% higher risk of developing diabetes than nonsmokers. Smoking also makes exercise more challenging.

Smoking also raises blood sugar temporarily, which poses an additional challenge in maintaining nondiabetic blood sugar levels. This increases the likelihood of a person developing complications of diabetes, such as kidney disease and nerve damage.

5. Manage stress

Research in 2019 suggests that although stress does not cause type 2 diabetes, it can worsen it. Stress stimulates the release of hormones that interfere with the body’s blood sugar regulation. It also makes a person more likely to engage in practices that make it harder to manage blood sugar, such as overeating and smoking.

One way to reduce stress involves taking a break from electronics and spending time in nature.

According to 2020 research, a person only needs medication if lifestyle practices do not put blood sugar levels in the nondiabetic range.

A doctor’s recommendation for medication for someone with type 2 diabetes may depend partly on their age when they receive a diagnosis. While many older adults with the condition have slightly higher blood sugar levels, this rarely causes problems.

On the other hand, doctors may prescribe medications to people who receive a diagnosis by the age 40 or 50. Even slightly elevated blood sugar levels can eventually lead to health problems, such as damage to nerves or blood vessels. Such damage may result in complications, such as kidney disease. The purpose of medications is to delay or prevent the harmful effects of diabetes.

According to the ADA, type 2 diabetes is progressive, making it more difficult to manage over time. Improvements in medical care enable people with the condition to live longer. However, despite the advancements, type 2 diabetes may reduce life expectancy by up to 10 years.

The effects of lifestyle practices alone on type 2 diabetes have not undergone extensive research, limiting statistics on the results of such interventions. However, a 2018 clinical trial examined the outcomes of a weight management program on 306 individuals with type 2 diabetes. After 12 months, the authors found about half the individuals who participated in the program went into remission.

Researchers cannot quantify the exact improvement that each healthy lifestyle practice may bring at this point in research. However, the outlook for people with type 2 diabetes who have a healthy lifestyle is better than those who do not.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that involves high blood glucose or blood sugar.

The pancreas makes insulin, a hormone that enables cells to take glucose from the bloodstream for energy. In type 2 diabetes, the cells do not respond normally to insulin, called insulin resistance. As a result, the pancreas makes more insulin in an attempt to get glucose inside the cells.

After some time, the pancreas cannot keep up, and blood sugar increases, which leads to prediabetes and diabetes.

Symptoms frequently develop over several years, including:

  • tiredness
  • increased thirst and urination
  • blurry vision
  • increased hunger
  • slow healing of sores
  • numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • weight loss without trying
  • dry skin
  • more infections than usual

Experts advise people interested in learning how to control type 2 diabetes without medications to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Significant weight loss can help control blood sugar levels in some people. Two ways to pursue weight management involve people eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular exercise.

Good nutrition is vital for a person with type 2 diabetes. Some evidence suggests that a nutritious eating plan, such as the Mediterranean diet, may help control blood sugar in ways other than weight loss.