Losing Weight Can Reverse Type 2 Diabetes, New Research Finds — Disease Was Previously Believed Incurable

New research offers hope for diabetes patients whose disease is generally believed to be treatable but not reversible.

Diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, scientific studies, weight loss
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New research offers hope for diabetes patients whose disease is generally believed to be treatable but not reversible.

Type 2 diabetes, a disease that afflicts about 27 million people in the United States alone, according to the medical site WebMD, has long been thought by scientists to be irreversible, a condition that can be managed, but never reversed or cured. But a new clinical trial study published this week in the journal Cell Metabolism calls that long-held medical belief into question, offering new hope for patients suffering from the disease that generally strikes individuals ages 45 and older.

In fact, the study shows, in many cases, type 2 diabetes may be reversed without drugs or complicated medical treatments — but simply by losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle, according to a report on the study by Medical News Today. About half of the participants in the study who were put on a weight loss program at the time they were diagnosed saw their diabetes go into remission.

The answer to why weight loss can have such a dramatic, positive effect on diabetes patients lies in the pancreas, the organ located in the abdomen that produces the hormone insulin, essential in regulating the level of glucose, or sugar, in the blood, as the Columbia Surgery explains. According to the scientists who authored the Cell Metabolism article, losing weight helps a type of cells in the pancreas known as beta cells to function properly.

Diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, scientific studies, weight loss
Type 2 Diabetes sufferers may be able to reverse their condition by losing weight, a new study shows. Syda Productions / Shutterstock

Scientists previously believed that once the beta cells started to lose their function, they could never be repaired, according to a summary of the findings published by Science Daily.

“This observation carries potentially important implications for the initial clinical approach to management,” the paper’s lead author, Roy Taylor of Britain’s Newcastle University, said, as quoted by the site. “At present, the early management of Type 2 diabetes tends to involve a period of adjusting to the diagnosis plus pharmacotherapy with lifestyle changes, which in practice are modest. Our data suggest that substantial weight loss at the time of diagnosis is appropriate to rescue the beta cells.”

The one catch is that patients must undertake the weight loss program within six years of initially being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, according to the World Health Organization.

“Diabetes affects approximately 422 million people around the globe, according to WHO, 90 percent being cases of Type 2 diabetes, and is long thought to be a lifelong condition that worsens over time,” the WHO says. But the clinical trial shows that the long-held belief that Type 2 diabetes is a permanent condition has been mistaken.