Can diabetes be reversed?

Reviewed by Beverly Tchang, MD, 

Reviewed by Beverly Tchang, MD, 

last updated: Aug 03, 2023

3 min read

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease but lifestyle changes like diet modifications and weight loss can halt the hallmark features of the illness: ineffective insulin production and irregular cellular responses to that hormone. By some clinicians, a person with blood sugar levels within normal ranges for three months without treatment is considered to be in “remission.” That said, the damage done to the body by diabetes is so widespread that other doctors include associated complications in the definition of the disease. That means that a person with blood vessel or nerve damage due to diabetes is still considered to have the disease, even when their blood sugar is under control without the use of medications. 

Research shows that while many people can get their blood sugar under control to the point that they no longer need medications for their diabetes—one technical definition of “diabetes reversal” or remission—fewer will have no residual signs of damage from the disease.

Definitions aside, though, getting your blood sugar under control and maintaining lifestyle changes that help you stay within healthy blood sugar ranges are important and achievable. 

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What can you do to reverse diabetes?

While it may sound repetitive, it does bear repeating: diet and exercise are the two most effective things you can do to reverse diabetes. Weight loss among people with obesity and diabetes following bariatric surgery had a lot more diabetes remission than people who didn’t undergo the procedure. More importantly, they had a much lower risk of stroke and heart attack than people who hadn’t gone through significant and sustained weight loss.

Exercise, in addition to helping people lose weight, actually plays its own independent role in helping your body control blood sugar. Both cardio workouts (like jogging and Zumba) and weight lifting have been shown to increase the body’s ability to process sugar without insulin and increase a person’s sensitivity to insulin, which is the mechanism that’s “broken” for people with type 2 diabetes. Long-term studies following sustained exercise regimens have been proven to reduce the risk of death from the most serious complications of diabetes, like heart attack and stroke.

What causes diabetes in the first place?

Diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors (like diet and physical activity). These factors cause insulin resistance, which is the first step towards diabetes. So what is insulin resistance? 

Everything we eat contains sugar in some form or another, and our bodies use that sugar as energy to power our cells. A hormone called insulin acts like a key, opening the door to our cells to let that sugar in. But for people who have consistently high levels of sugar in their bloodstream, the cells can stop responding to that signal, a condition known as insulin resistance, in an effort to ensure that the cells don’t get too much sugar. This leaves the sugar in the bloodstream where it shouldn’t be, and that sugar can travel around our bodies and cause damage to the blood vessels and nerves, as well as to larger structures like the heart and kidneys. 

At the same time, as the body tries to release more and more insulin to “open the door” to the cells, it can exhaust the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas resulting in another component of diabetes: insulin insufficiency (or not enough insulin). 

While genetics play a crucial role in a person’s predisposition to developing diabetes, the amount of sugar in our diets is a crucial factor in the development of diabetes. 

How to reverse diabetes

While there’s no sure method for reversing diabetes that will work for everyone, you can stop the progressive damage by controlling your diet and getting into a regular exercise routine. While lifestyle changes may be touted for their reliability, anyone who has tried them knows just how hard they can be to maintain. 

Consulting with your healthcare provider about integrating medications into your regimen is an important step for anyone with type 2 diabetes. Some drugs, like Ozempic and other GLP-1 agonists, can help people lose enough weight to be able to maintain a more active lifestyle, effectively tackling two birds with one stone. 

While medications aren’t right for everyone, speaking with your doctor about how to best manage your diabetes is the first step when it comes to reversing diabetes and stopping the damage it can cause.


How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

August 03, 2023

Written by

Yael Cooperman, MD

Fact checked by

Beverly Tchang, MD


About the medical reviewer

Beverly Tchang, MD is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York and is triple board-certified in internal medicine, endocrinology, and obesity medicine. She graduated from SUNY Downstate Medical College and completed her residency and fellowship training at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell and Columbia University Medical Center. Passionate about education, she is the Program Director of Cornell's obesity medicine fellowship and founded the non-profit membership organization, Tri-state Obesity Society. Dr. Tchang serves in several national organizations, including The Veterans Administration, The Obesity Society, and the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Research interests include obesity pharmacotherapy, education, and telemedicine. Beverly medically reviewed a Ro piece about [what steps to take to reverse diabetes](https://ro.co/weight-loss/can-diabetes-be-reversed/).

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