If diabetes runs in your family, you may find yourself preparing for the worst-case scenario of a diabetes diagnosis.
But what happens if you are indeed diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes? Is there any chance of going back to your previous diabetes-free life?
Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple.
Type 1 Diabetes
Most experts agree that there is no cure for type 1 diabetes — it’s not reversible.
People with type 1 diabetes will need to receive insulin injections in order to live a healthy life, since the pancreas is unable to produce the necessary amount of insulin, said Dr. Lipi Roy, an internal medicine physician at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no current way to prevent type 1 diabetes, and only about 5 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults are type 1.
However, regular exercise and healthy eating can help people manage type 1 diabetes, along with receiving insulin injections, the CDC states.
Type 1 diabetes is actually considered to be an autoimmune disease, since antibodies attack the pancreas and prevent insulin production, said Dr. Romy Block, an endocrinologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.
“Insulin is used like a key to unlock your cells,” Block said. “Sugar then goes inside and your body produces energy.”
Type 2 Diabetes
Whether type 2 diabetes can be cured or not is up for interpretation by several experts, although the CDC states that they’re still looking for an actual cure for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The Mayo Clinic also states that although type 2 diabetes doesn’t have a cure, it can be managed with or without medication and/or insulin.
However, Roy states that patients who switch to healthy lifestyle choices can actually reverse type 2 diabetes.
She said that eating healthy (lean protein, vegetables and nutritious low-carb foods) and exercising regularly can reverse type 2 diabetes, since weight loss is the primary factor in reversal.
In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t know how to use insulin appropriately and can become insulin-resistant, Roy said. As a result, the pancreas creates extra insulin to try and counteract the high blood sugar levels (also called hyperglycemia).
Block states that type 2 diabetes is reversible in its early stages, as long as you practice healthy lifestyle choices: healthy diet, consistent exercise and healthy weight.
“In the later stages, it is more difficult because the pancreas may not be producing enough insulin,” Block said.
Perhaps the conflicting information among experts is the hang-up over the words “cure” and “reversal.” If people don’t have to take medication to manage a condition, it may seem as if it’s “cured” or “reversed,” even if technically speaking it’s not. Either way, it doesn’t become the burden it once was.
Some women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, even if they’ve never been diagnosed with any type of diabetes previously.
Although gestational diabetes disappears after childbirth, the temporary condition can still put both the mother and child at a greater risk of having type 2 diabetes in the future, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Roy, Lipi. Email interview. November 16, 2015.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infographics on Diabetes. Diabetes. A Snapshot: Diabetes in The United States. Web. December 15, 2015.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basics About Diabetes. Is there a cure for diabetes? Web. December 15, 2015.
American Diabetes Association. Myths and Facts. Web. December 15, 2015.
Mayo Clinic. Type 2 diabetes. Definition. Web. December 15, 2015.
Block, Romy. Email interview. November 16, 2015.
Reviewed December 17, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith