Many studies show that lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy and increasing physical activity, can dramatically reduce the progression of Type 2 diabetes and may control Type 1 diabetes. These lifestyle changes can also help minimize other risk factors such as high blood pressure and blood cholesterol, which can have a negative impact on people with diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is usually first treated by increasing physical activity, and eliminating saturated fat and reducing sugar and carbohydrate intake with a goal of losing weight. These can restore insulin sensitivity even when the weight loss is modest, for example around 5 kg (10 to 15 lb), most especially when it is in abdominal fat deposits. Diets that are very low in saturated fats have been claimed to reverse insulin resistance.
The first hint that type 2 diabetes is a fully reversible syndrome came from bariatric surgery. Almost a quarter century ago, Pories et al. (12) demonstrated that blood glucose levels normalized in obese people with type 2 diabetes undergoing bariatric surgery and that 10 years later, almost 90% remained free of diabetes. The phenomenon was more recently tested in a randomized prospective study comparing gastric banding with intensive medical therapy for type 2 diabetes (13). This least invasive type of surgery was most suitable for the randomized study, although it was associated with lower rates of diabetes reversal than other procedures. Mean fasting plasma glucose fell to normal levels in the surgically treated group but declined only modestly in the intensive medical treatment group despite oral agents and insulin (Fig. 1) (13). Remission of diabetes was related to the degree of weight loss rather than to group allocation and was achieved in 73% of the surgical group and 13% of the intensive medical treatment group because surgery was more effective in achieving weight loss as previously described (14). Type 2 diabetes can be reversed by applying a surgical procedure that diminishes fat mass.
Magnesium deficiency is not uncommon in people with diabetes, and it can worsen high blood sugar and insulin resistance. Some studies suggest that supplementing with magnesium may improve insulin function and lower blood sugar levels, but other studies have shown no benefit. Have your doctor check you for deficiency before supplementing with magnesium. These are signs that you’re not getting enough magnesium.
Gene therapy can be used to manufacture insulin directly: an oral medication, consisting of viral vectors containing the insulin sequence, is digested and delivers its genes to the upper intestines. Those intestinal cells will then behave like any viral infected cell, and will reproduce the insulin protein. The virus can be controlled to infect only the cells which respond to the presence of glucose, such that insulin is produced only in the presence of high glucose levels. Due to the limited numbers of vectors delivered, very few intestinal cells would actually be impacted and would die off naturally in a few days. Therefore, by varying the amount of oral medication used, the amount of insulin created by gene therapy can be increased or decreased as needed. As the insulin-producing intestinal cells die off, they are boosted by additional oral medications.
Whole-body insulin resistance is the earliest predictor of type 2 diabetes onset, and this mainly reflects muscle insulin resistance (26). However, careful separation of the contributions of muscle and liver have shown that early improvement in control of fasting plasma glucose level is associated only with improvement in liver insulin sensitivity (20,21). It is clear that the resumption of normal or near-normal diurnal blood glucose control does not require improvement in muscle insulin sensitivity. Although this finding may at first appear surprising, it is supported by a wide range of earlier observations. Mice totally lacking in skeletal muscle insulin receptors do not develop diabetes (27). Humans who have the PPP1R3A genetic variant of muscle glycogen synthase cannot store glycogen in muscle after meals but are not necessarily hyperglycemic (28). Many normoglycemic individuals maintain normal blood glucose levels with a degree of muscle insulin resistance identical to those with type 2 diabetes (29).
Glycemic control is a medical term referring to the typical levels of blood sugar (glucose) in a person with diabetes mellitus. Much evidence suggests that many of the long-term complications of diabetes, especially the microvascular complications, result from many years of hyperglycemia (elevated levels of glucose in the blood). Good glycemic control, in the sense of a "target" for treatment, has become an important goal of diabetes care, although recent research suggests that the complications of diabetes may be caused by genetic factors or, in type 1 diabetics, by the continuing effects of the autoimmune disease which first caused the pancreas to lose its insulin-producing ability.
Control and outcomes of both types 1 and 2 diabetes may be improved by patients using home glucose meters to regularly measure their glucose levels. Glucose monitoring is both expensive (largely due to the cost of the consumable test strips) and requires significant commitment on the part of the patient. The effort and expense may be worthwhile for patients when they use the values to sensibly adjust food, exercise, and oral medications or insulin. These adjustments are generally made by the patients themselves following training by a clinician.
Normally, blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas. This release of insulin promotes the uptake of glucose into body cells. In patients with diabetes, the absence of insufficient production of or lack of response to insulin causes hyperglycemia. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition, meaning that although it can be controlled, it lasts a lifetime.