Can losing weight reverse type 2 diabetes for some people?

Losing weight may reverse type 2 diabetes if you haven’t had the disease for long.

In a 2020 study, researchers randomly assigned 147 people aged 18 to 50 who had had type 2 diabetes for no more than three years to either a control group or an intervention group. All had overweight or obesity.

Every day for 12 weeks, the intervention group consumed only about 800 calories’ worth of meal replacement foods (like shakes, soups, and bars), plus raw vegetables and two quarts of water.

They also stopped taking all diabetes medications and boosted their exercise, starting with a goal of taking 10,000 steps a day and then aiming for doing at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. Over the next 12 weeks, they slowly re-introduced foods with help from a dietitian.

The control group received usual medical care for diabetes.

What happened after a year

Those in the intervention group had lost, on average, 26 pounds, and 61 percent of them no longer had diabetes. In roughly half of those without diabetes, long-term blood sugar (hemoglobin A1c) had dropped to the prediabetes range, while in the other half, levels were down to normal.

In contrast, people in the control group had lost an average of 9 pounds, and only 12 percent of them no longer had diabetes.

(Note: One of the 15 researchers had previously received a grant from Cambridge Weight Plan Ltd. The company sells the meal replacements used in this study, but didn’t supply them for free or fund the research.)

What to do

If you have type 2 diabetes and excess weight, talk to your healthcare provider about a weight-loss and exercise program. Don't try a very-low-calorie diet without their help. The diet may cause dangerously low blood sugar, and your provider may need to adjust your medications.

Photo: Blokhin.