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Health Answers: Can type 2 diabetes be reversed?

Q. Can type 2 diabetes be reversed?

A. Type 2 diabetes is usually seen as a progressive disease, or as a condition that can be managed or controlled with diet and exercise or medication. But is it possible to make the disease go away? The answer is yes, says Dr. Martin Abrahamson, chief medical officer at the Joslin Diabetes Center. But when physicians talk about reversing the course of the disease, he says, “we don’t talk about a cure, we talk about remission.”

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The primary way that people achieve remission is by losing a significant amount of weight. The reason it’s considered remission and not a cure, he says, is that gaining the weight back would likely cause the diabetes to return.

“Most people, if they were going to have a reasonable chance of getting their diabetes into remission, would have to lose more than 10 percent of body weight,” he says, although the exact amount varies by individual.

Patients can achieve this weight loss either through bariatric surgery (gastric bypass or the less extreme gastric banding) if they qualify for it, or through a weight loss regimen that includes exercise and calorie restriction.

Those who find such dramatic weight loss difficult can still gain better control of their diabetes without medication by losing a modest amount of weight, about 5 percent. Abrahamson points out that this step improves other measures of health.

“Weight loss is a universal treatment that can improve all cardiovascular risk factors,” he says.

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