FOR a long time, type 2 diabetes has been treated as a progressive disease; once you’ve got it, that’s it. Lifestyle might delay the progression, but ultimately you are fighting a losing battle.
But that does not appear to be the whole truth.
There is considerable evidence that our sensitivity to insulin can be improved with the right changes to our diet, exercise and body composition.
These improvements can even result in a remission of type 2 diabetes. Remission occurs when there is a temporary end to medical signs and symptoms of a disease. In the case of type 2 diabetes, this means that blood sugar levels return to a normal range and the disease doesn’t progress. That’s some pretty exciting news for people who have, or are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a confusing health issue that all comes down to insulin, a lovely hormone made in our pancreas.
Its job is to stop our blood sugar levels (BSL) from getting too high by telling our liver, muscle and fat tissue to store the sugar temporarily. Insulin resistance occurs when our liver, muscle and fat tissue stop listening to insulin. The pancreas then has to send out more and more insulin to get them to listen. The pancreas eventually gets to a point where it can’t make enough insulin to keep the BSL in check. This is pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Sending diabetes into remission is all about improving our insulin sensitivity and reducing resistance (i.e. getting our liver, muscles and fat to listen to the insulin).
Luckily, insulin sensitivity is a lot like a dimmer switch; it gets stronger or weaker based on what we are doing, what we are eating and our body composition.
What can be done to improve insulin sensitivity?
- Consume whole foods: Eating lots of whole, nutrient-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables helps to naturally moderate our appetite and calorie intake as well as improve the Glycemic Index of our meals. All of which can help to improve sensitivity to insulin over an extended period.
- Moderate the volume of carbohydrate: There is growing research to suggest that lower carbohydrate diets can help to improve our insulin sensitivity. Before running scared of potato, let’s get something straight – a low-carbohydrate diet does not mean a no-carbohydrate diet.
- Exercise: Both cardio and resistance exercise can improve muscles’ ability to listen to insulin for several hours and even days after exercise.
- Lose weight: There is consistent, good-quality evidence that even a moderate reduction in weight (5kg), can improve insulin sensitivity and fasting BSLs.
Remission is not a cure, it’s a temporary end to signs and symptoms. Just like cancer, we don’t have a cure for type 2 diabetes. If the strategies above are not maintained, the medical signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes can and will return.
Clare Wolski is a practising dietitian at The Healthy Eating Hub (6174 4663), which is offering a four-week “Reversing Diabetes” group program. More information at healthyeatinghub.com.au/diabetes