How Can Type 2 Diabetes Be Reversed? 5 Changes Can Help

Article written and reviewed by Cyrus Khambatta, PhD
Published November 1, 2020

So Type 2 Diabetes Can Be Reversed?

Yes, type 2 diabetes can be reversed if it is caught early enough and treated effectively with lifestyle changes.

There are some misconceptions about whether or not diabetes can be reversed, primarily due to the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an irreversible autoimmune condition that attacks insulin-producing beta cells dramatically reduces insulin production.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is a reversible condition in the majority of cases, and is primarily caused by insulin resistance.

According to the statistics, type 1 diabetes is less common (5-10%), typically occurring in younger people, while type 2 diabetes is more common (90-95% of cases), and typically occurs later in life.

So while 5-10% of cases cannot be reversed, the vast majority can be reversed. However, this relies on effective treatment early on.

In this article, we’ll explore the causes of type 2 diabetes, touch on what happens if you don’t reverse type 2 diabetes, and take a look at 5 evidence-based ways that you can decisively reverse type 2 diabetes and return your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels to normal.

How Type 2 Diabetes Happens

The vast majority of symptoms and complications of type 2 diabetes are caused by a condition called insulin resistance, caused by the accumulation of excess fat in tissues that are not designed to store large quantities of fat, namely your muscle and liver.

This accumulation of fat most often results from a low-carbohydrate diet, a Paleo diet, a ketogenic diet, or a diet containing artificial sweeteners.

In addition to your diet, a sedentary lifestyle is also associated with excess fat in your liver and muscle.

In its early stages, type 2 diabetes is referred to as “non-insulin-dependent,” when beta cells in your pancreas are able to secrete sufficient insulin to counteract insulin resistance.

In later stages, type 2 diabetes can become classified as “insulin-dependent,” when beta cells become compromised in their ability to secrete insulin.

What Happens If You Don’t Reverse Type 2 Diabetes

If left unmanaged, type 2 diabetes can directly lead to significant weight gain, and drastically increases your risk for metabolic syndrome (a combination of heart disease risk factors including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and others).

Complications from diabetes can also include:

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) and kidney failure
  • Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy)
  • Damaged blood vessels and impaired blood flow
  • Vision problems (retinopathy)

Secondary Complications

Type 2 diabetes also drastically increases your risk for other diseases, with one study indicating that people with type 2 diabetes spend 3 times more on medical bills than non-diabetic individuals.

These indirect complications can affect your arteries, liver and muscles, kidneys, and ovaries, and also increase your risk for various neurological and brain disorders.

The list of possible secondary complications includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Fatty liver disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • And various other chronic conditions

Insulin-Dependent Type 2 Diabetes | Being Aware of the Point of No Return

If type 2 diabetes is reversed, many of its complications and risks will go away. However, if left untreated for long enough, type 2 diabetes can transition to “insulin-dependent” type 2 diabetes.

When you have type 2 diabetes, beta cells in your pancreas are forced to overproduce insulin to counteract increasing insulin requirements in your liver and muscle. After many years of overproduction, beta cells eventually lose the ability to produce insulin.

In this case, your body will require injections of external insulin applied through a pen, syringe, or pump, even if you reverse insulin resistance using your food as medicine.

5 Research-Backed Ways to Reverse Diabetes

The good news is that there are multiple, evidence-based steps that you can take to reverse insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes effectively, and almost all of them are sustainable, positive, long-term lifestyle changes.

Adjust Your Diet | The Most Powerful Prevention and Reversal

The most important factor in the development of insulin resistance is your diet, and as a result adjusting your diet is the most powerful way to reverse type 2 diabetes.

Eliminating refined sugars and artificial sweeteners is a good start, but the best lifestyle to reverse insulin resistance is a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet. This diet doesn’t require portion control or calorie restrictions, and instead focuses on foods that increase your insulin sensitivity.

If you’d like to see how, explore our definitive diabetes diet guide.

Myth Busting: There has been a recent trend in diabetes treatment to recommend high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets. While these diets have positive short-term results, in the long run they actually worsen your diabetes health. See our article on debunking these myths to learn why.

Daily Movement | A Positive Feedback Loop

When combined with dietary changes, increasing your exercise and daily movement has a positive feedback loop. More activity means your muscles can burn fat and glucose more efficiently, which reduces the amount of both in circulation.

Ultimately, sustained lifestyle change to integrate more movement stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis, which accelerates the process of reversing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Myth busting: With enough exercise I can eat as much as I want, right? Unfortunately not. A poor diet can outpace any amount of exercise, no matter how frequent or intense. Even world class athletes can end up with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, so changing your diet is necessary.

Intermittent Fasting | Your Body’s Natural Recycling Program

Humans are adapted to sustain themselves over long periods without eating, leftover from times when we were hunter-gatherers. During periods of intermittent fasting (usually 16 hours or 24 hours), your body starts a process called autophagy to ensure that cells can still function.

During autophagy, your body burns excess fat, proteins, and old cells, a sort of internal recycling program.

Studies have shown that regular intermittent fasting can lead to weight loss, reduced insulin resistance, and better cardiovascular health, along with other factors like improved neurological activity, and improved liver health.

Myth busting: I can drink diet sodas and diet energy drinks while intermittent fasting, right? While the answer to these questions is technically yes, you can learn why these diet sodas and diet energy drinks are counterproductive to your intermittent fast (along with some recommended beverages) from our friends at Amla Green.

Medicines | Common Pharmaceuticals and Natural Alternatives

During the early phases of diabetes treatment, it may be necessary to take pharmaceutical medications to maintain your blood glucose in a healthy range.

Metformin is the most widely prescribed oral medication to treat type 2 diabetes, but one of the most powerful evidence-based natural alternatives are Indian gooseberries, known as amla.

Amla berries can lower your blood glucose as much as the leading medications, and has potent cholesterol and blood pressure lowering effects as well. The best part? Unlike pharmaceutical medications, these berries have zero side effects.

Myth busting: If there’s medication for diabetes, why should I change my lifestyle and diet around?

Medications for diabetes only treat the symptoms, not the underlying causes. Until you can reverse insulin resistance and become insulin sensitive again, you will still be at risk for the complications of diabetes.

Gastric Bypass or Bariatric Surgery | A Last Resort

In extreme cases, gastric bypass or bariatric surgery can provide an interventionary change to your digestive system, adjusting your stomach and intestines so that you feel full with less food or bypass certain parts of your digestion.

In addition to the primary effects of these invasive procedures, one interesting side effect is that patients experienced significantly reduced insulin resistance in their adipose tissue, though researchers theorize this may coincide with the large weight loss often associated with gastric bypass.

Myth busting: Once I have a gastric bypass surgery, can I continue eating the way I used to?

No. Gastric bypass surgery is a major operation that should only be considered as a last resort with the guidance of your physician. And unless it’s accompanied by corresponding changes in lifestyle, the health benefits won’t be sustainable.

What Happens After You Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes reversal doesn’t happen all at once, but you’ll start to notice changes in the short-term.

You’ll need less medication for diabetes management, healthy insulin levels, and you’ll probably experience healthy weight loss and have more energy. You also might notice that your mood has changed for the better, and your immune health has improved.

Ultimately, if you stick with a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet and daily movement, you’ll notice long-term improvements in your overall health, fitness, and mood, and turn type 2 diabetes to a thing of the past.

However, one thing that’s very important is making those changes stick, because you’re never “out of the woods” so to speak, especially as the body ages. The same lifestyle changes that caused type 2 diabetes can cause them again, even after being reversed.

Hopefully, this shouldn’t sound scary. We believe that the benefits of a proper diet and daily movement are positive and self-supporting. You won’t need medication anymore, or have to fear for your health. And when you maintain good base health, a “red-light” meal every once in a while won’t be dangerous.

Still, we understand that this can be a significant change, and it’s not always easy to make changes and stay committed. That’s why we founded Mastering Diabetes.

Coaching to Help You Reverse Insulin Resistance

At Mastering Diabetes, we have a comprehensive coaching program based on years of research that has helped hundreds of people reverse their type 2 diabetes.

In the program, you can get access to hundreds of articles, recipes, and tips on how to eat healthy and reverse insulin resistance, and you can get coaching from diabetes experts, either in group or one-on-one sessions.

There’s also a vibrant community of people on your exact same journey, working to reverse insulin resistance and stay on top of their health together.

Controlling and reversing type 2 diabetes is entirely within your control. You just have to take the right steps!

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About the author 

Cyrus Khambatta, PhD

Cyrus Khambatta, PhD is a New York Times bestselling co-author of Mastering Diabetes: The Revolutionary Method to Reverse Insulin Resistance Permanently in Type 1, Type 1.5, Type 2, Prediabetes, and Gestational Diabetes. He is the co-founder of Mastering Diabetes and Amla Green, and is an internationally recognized nutrition and fitness coach who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002. He co-created the Mastering Diabetes Method to reverse insulin resistance in all forms of diabetes, and has helped more than 10,000 people improve their metabolic health using low-fat, plant-based, whole-food nutrition, intermittent fasting, and exercise. Cyrus earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2003, then earned a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 2012. He is the co-author of many peer-reviewed scientific publications. He is the co-host of the annual Mastering Diabetes Online Summit, a featured speaker at the Plant-Based Nutrition and Healthcare Conference (PBNHC), the American College of Lifestyle Medicine Conference (ACLM), Plant Stock, the Torrance Memorial Medical Center, and has been featured on The Doctors, NPR, KQED, Forks Over Knives, Healthline, Fast Company, Diet Fiction, and the wildly popular podcasts the Rich Roll Podcast, Plant Proof, MindBodyGreen, and Nutrition Rounds. Scientific Publications: Sarver, Jordan, Cyrus Khambatta, Robby Barbaro, Bhakti Chavan, and David Drozek. “Retrospective Evaluation of an Online Diabetes Health Coaching Program: A Pilot Study.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, October 15, 2019, 1559827619879106. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827619879106 Shrivastav, Maneesh, William Gibson, Rajendra Shrivastav, Katie Elzea, Cyrus Khambatta, Rohan Sonawane, Joseph A. Sierra, and Robert Vigersky. “Type 2 Diabetes Management in Primary Care: The Role of Retrospective, Professional Continuous Glucose Monitoring.” Diabetes Spectrum: A Publication of the American Diabetes Association 31, no. 3 (August 2018): 279–87. https://doi.org/10.2337/ds17-0024 Thompson, Airlia C. S., Matthew D. Bruss, John C. Price, Cyrus F. Khambatta, William E. Holmes, Marc Colangelo, Marcy Dalidd, et al. “Reduced in Vivo Hepatic Proteome Replacement Rates but Not Cell Proliferation Rates Predict Maximum Lifespan Extension in Mice.” Aging Cell 15, no. 1 (February 2016): 118–27. https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.12414 Roohk, Donald J., Smita Mascharak, Cyrus Khambatta, Ho Leung, Marc Hellerstein, and Charles Harris. “Dexamethasone-Mediated Changes in Adipose Triacylglycerol Metabolism Are Exaggerated, Not Diminished, in the Absence of a Functional GR Dimerization Domain.” Endocrinology 154, no. 4 (April 2013): 1528–39. https://doi.org/10.1210/en.2011-1047 Price, John C., Cyrus F. Khambatta, Kelvin W. Li, Matthew D. Bruss, Mahalakshmi Shankaran, Marcy Dalidd, Nicholas A. Floreani, et al. “The Effect of Long Term Calorie Restriction on in Vivo Hepatic Proteostatis: A Novel Combination of Dynamic and Quantitative Proteomics.” Molecular & Cellular Proteomics: MCP 11, no. 12 (December 2012): 1801–14. https://doi.org/10.1074/mcp.M112.021204 Bruss, Matthew D., Airlia C. S. Thompson, Ishita Aggarwal, Cyrus F. Khambatta, and Marc K. Hellerstein. “The Effects of Physiological Adaptations to Calorie Restriction on Global Cell Proliferation Rates.” American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism 300, no. 4 (April 2011): E735-745. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00661.2010 Bruss, Matthew D., Cyrus F. Khambatta, Maxwell A. Ruby, Ishita Aggarwal, and Marc K. Hellerstein. “Calorie Restriction Increases Fatty Acid Synthesis and Whole Body Fat Oxidation Rates.” American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism 298, no. 1 (January 2010): E108-116. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00524.2009