Learning how to reverse diabetes is simple. Actually doing it is the hard part.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25.8 million Americans are affected by diabetes in one way or another.

If you’re one of them, the general steps toward reversing the condition are as follows:

  • Manage blood sugar levels
  • Lose weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Adopt dietary changes
The lifestyle choices that can lead to diabetes include eating lots of sugary foods, refined carbohydrates that easily convert to sugar (like pastries and breads) and not exercising.

Christian K. Roberts, an assistant research professor at the University of California, Los Angeles’ School of Nursing who has conducted several studies on health and lifestyle choices says that it is indeed possible to reverse diabetes.

In 2005, Roberts co-authored a research study which highlighted the results of five different studies covering 864 subjects who modified their lifestyles in order to measure the effect on their diabetic condition. In the combined results, about 75 percent of the subjects that were taking oral hypoglycemic agents were able to reverse diabetes and about 50 percent of those on insulin were able to discontinue their medication. 

The following year, in a much smaller, peer-reviewed study that lasted about three weeks, Roberts was able to reverse diabetes in about half the participants diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome. The 31 men who participated in the trial performed 45-60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on a treadmill every day during the study and ate a low-glycemic plant-based diet.

“We don’t know exactly how long it takes to reverse diabetes, but, as you can see, with an intensive program, it doesn’t take that long,” says Roberts.

Roberts acknowledges that most diabetics, if they are not in an intensive research program, will most likely not be able to reverse their condition in such a short time frame.

“The degree to which diabetics modify their lifestyle will determine if it takes weeks or months to reverse it,” says Roberts, adding that in addition to adopting a daily exercise regimen, those with diabetes must eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, a small amount of meat, and, perhaps most importantly, no refined carbohydrates.

Roberts cautions that reversing their condition does not mean a diabetic is in the clear.

“If diabetics, especially those with type 2 diabetes, revert back to the lifestyle that led them to become diabetic in the first place, they will once again have diabetes,” he said. “To be sure, there is no cure.”

Judd Handler is an Encinitas, Calif.-based health reporter and wellness consultant. He can be reached at coachjudd@gmail.com.

See also:

Signs of diabetes