Type 2 diabetes is reversible under certain conditions, depending on a person’s lifestyle. Medications alone do not reverse it. If a person does not make healthy lifestyle changes, type 2 diabetes will progress, and they will eventually need more medications to manage it.

However, if someone engages in healthy lifestyle practices, such as eating a low calorie diet and getting regular exercise, their diabetes may subside and go into remission. People should also note that a prediabetes diagnosis does not necessarily mean that developing type 2 diabetes is inevitable. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), people can also reverse prediabetes by making lifestyle changes.

Keep reading to learn more about the possibility of people reversing type 2 diabetes, as well as diet, health, and prevention tips.

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Type 2 diabetes is very common. The International Diabetes Federation reports that 463 million adults had the condition in 2019, resulting in 4.2 million deaths the same year.

That said, people with type 2 diabetes can do many things to control and manage the condition. A 2020 study notes that lifestyle practices may prevent type 2 diabetes but also have the potential to reverse it. This is also known as remission. In fact, evidence supporting the value of such practices is so substantial that the study’s authors refer to them as “lifestyle medicine.”

While the study cites evidence that a low calorie diet can help reverse type 2 diabetes, it contends a superior strategy exists. According to the authors, the link between type 2 diabetes and obesity does not involve excess body weight alone. Rather, excess belly fat specifically plays a prominent role.

With this in mind, the authors say a diabetes-reversing strategy that includes exercise is a better approach. They base this on other findings that indicate a combination of diet and exercise reduces belly fat. The authors also note that exercise lowers blood glucose levels and improves the sensitivity of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.

Healthy lifestyle practices could curb the type 2 diabetes epidemic, the authors conclude. While they advocate people following a low calorie diet and exercise, they add that such practices should include people getting enough sleep, abstaining from smoking, and monitoring their alcohol intake.

These lifestyle practices may also reverse prediabetes. In this condition, a person has slightly elevated blood sugar and is at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The CDC notes that pursuing a healthy weight and getting regular exercise may offer this benefit.

Learn more about prediabetes here.

Remission is the preferred term for diabetes reversal. This is because a person’s type 2 diabetes can always return. When someone is in remission, their A1C has reduced to a level of an individual who does not have type 2 diabetes, which is less than 6.5%.

A1C reflects a person’s average blood sugar level for the most recent 2–3 months. Doctors use the A1C test to diagnose and monitor the progress of the condition.

Aside from the lower A1C, a person in remission no longer needs to take any diabetes medication.

The CDC states several differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes:

CharacteristicType 1 diabetesType 2 diabetes
PhysiologyThe body stops making insulin.The body makes insulin but does not use it well, so it cannot maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Percentage of people with diabetes5–10%90–95%
Onset of symptomsSymptoms develop quickly.Symptoms develop over many years.
When diagnosedDoctors usually diagnose it in children, teens, and young adults.Doctors usually diagnose it in adults, but they are increasingly diagnosing it in children, teens, and young adults.
TreatmentTreatment involves daily insulin.Treatment involves diet, medications, insulin, or a combination.
PreventionThere is no known prevention.Prevention is possible with healthy lifestyle changes.

The CDC provides diet and self-care health tips for people with diabetes. Diet recommendations include:

  • choosing nutritious foods, which involves fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat or nonfat dairy products
  • eating high fiber foods, such as whole grain breads and cereals
  • selecting foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, calories, sugar, and salt
  • drinking water rather than regular soda or juice
  • filling a plate for meals as follows:
    • one-half with fruits and vegetables
    • one-quarter with whole grains
    • one-quarter with lean protein, such as beans or chicken without skin

Self-care is also important to live well with diabetes. Tips include:

  • taking medications as prescribed
  • visiting a doctor at least twice per year
  • monitoring and recording blood sugar if a doctor advises this
  • checking blood pressure if a doctor recommends this
  • checking their feet daily for blisters, redness, swelling, and cuts
  • maintaining healthy teeth and gums with regular brushing and flossing
  • abstaining from smoking
  • engaging in ways to reduce stress, such as deep breathing
  • seeking support from family, friends, or a mental health counselor

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers people the following type 2 diabetes prevention tips:

  • Lose weight if overweight: Losing 5–7% of weight can delay or prevent a person from developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Exercise regularly: This means a minimum of 30 minutes on 5 days per week. Individuals should start slowly and gradually increase their physical activity until reaching a goal. People should also ask a healthcare professional for specific exercise recommendations.
  • Eat nutritious foods most of the time: Following the dietary advice in the ‘Diet and health tips’ section above also helps prevent type 2 diabetes.

A person’s type 2 diabetes can go into remission if they seek and maintain a healthy weight, as well as engage in regular exercise.

Following a nutritious diet may help a person with weight control. In a single meal, this involves filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains, and a quarter with a lean protein, such as beans or chicken without the skin.

It is also beneficial for someone with type 2 diabetes to abstain from smoking and monitor their blood pressure. Stress management and seeking support from others are also important for people to live well with diabetes.