Across the world, some 400 million people experience type 2 diabetes: a chronic health condition that can affect several major organs in your body, and eventually lead to heart disease, kidney damage, blindness, and more.
The good news is type 2 diabetes can often be avoided through managing your weight, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet – but even if you do develop the condition, it's not necessarily permanent.
In recent years, research has shown that it's possible to reverse a type 2 diabetes diagnosis and send the disease into remission, and now a new study demonstrates that recovering from the disease could be a lot easier than you think.
"We've known for some time now that it's possible to send diabetes into remission using fairly drastic measures such as intensive weight loss programmes and extreme calorie restriction," says epidemiologist Hajira Dambha-Miller from the the University of Cambridge.
"These interventions can be very challenging to individuals and difficult to achieve."
Difficult is true. In one 2017 clinical trial, patients had to adopt an extreme "total diet replacement" that saw them subsist on low-calorie shakes for up to five months, before slowly being reintroduced to food.
These kinds of extreme interventions get results – as do other intensive approaches involving combinations of medications, insulin, and lifestyle adjustments.
But according to Dambha-Miller, people with type 2 diabetes may not need to go quite so extreme to increase their chances of reversing the condition.
"Our results suggest that it may be possible to get rid of diabetes, for at least five years, with a more modest weight loss of 10 percent," Dambha-Miller says.
In the new study, the researchers examined a cohort of 867 people aged between 40 and 69 years who were newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
All of the participants were from the east of England, and were monitored for five years in the experiment, during which some people received an intervention treatment (involving additional medical consultations and resources being provided) or a control group who received routine medical care.
Ultimately, at the end of five years of follow-ups, 257 of the participants (about 30 percent of the whole cohort) were in remission.
Compared with people who maintained the same weight throughout the study, people who lost 10 percent of their body weight or better than doubled their chances of achieving remission and reversing their type 2 diabetes diagnosis – and all without being encouraged to make extreme diet and lifestyle adjustments.
The authors of the study note that previous clinical experiments advocating significant weight loss of 15 percent or greater may be disincentivising patients who find it hard to physically or emotionally reach such ambitious targets.
"This may provide some rationale for motivating people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes to lose weight rather than focusing on specific and potentially unachievable weight targets," the researchers explain.
"Previous studies have shown that, when attempting to lose weight, people often set unrealistically high weight loss goals that could be detrimental to success."
The findings are reported in Diabetic Medicine.