Yes, Type 2 Diabetes Is Reversible—and Other Surprising Facts
If you’re Hispanic or live in a Hispanic community, no one has to tell you about diabetes. About 15% of people in this community have the chronic condition, and the risk of developing diabetes if you're Hispanic is 50%. What’s more, there were more new cases of diabetes among people of Hispanic origin than non-Hispanic Asians or non-Hispanic whites last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, for such a common disease, you might know less about it than you think. Read on for some eye-opening facts.
Diabetes Can Be Reversible
Probably the biggest misconception about diabetes is this: Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it for life. Not true, according to Beverly Yates, a naturopathic doctor and diabetes expert in San Francisco. While there are variables about the disease that you can’t control, there’s plenty that you can, and in some cases, type 2 diabetes is reversible. Through diet changes, weight loss, and constant commitment, you may be able to get blood sugar levels under control without medication.
You Can Change Your Family’s Legacy
If you know someone in every branch of your family tree who has dealt with diabetes, it can feel inevitable for you, too. But while genetics do play a role in risk, your food choices and behaviors can have a significant influence on your health outcomes. Learn what you can about your relatives who have diabetes—do they have access to healthy food? Do they exercise regularly? Do they get enough sleep? The answers to these questions can guide you to taking steps to reduce your risk, Yates says.
Diabetes Is Reversible in Kids, Too
Type 2 diabetes has long been viewed as a disease that affects adults, but more children than ever are developing it today, especially those in Hispanic and other minority communities, says Sheila Perez-Colon, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist and diabetes expert in Miami. As with grownups, kids with type 2 can likely reverse their condition by making smart food choices. Weight is a risk factor, so if your child is overweight, you’ll want to work with your pediatrician to develop healthy habits.
Being Active Can Prevent Diabetes
While maintaining a healthy weight through a healthy meal plan is key to reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, exercise is important, too—and neither adults nor kids today are getting nearly enough. “One of the biggest reasons kids are more susceptible to type 2 diabetes today than in the past is because access to electronics is so prevalent,” Dr. Perez-Colon says, keeping the sedentary at home. “This risk can be reduced not only by focusing on eating healthy foods, but prioritizing movement, outdoor exercise, and less screen time.”
Sports Are Your Kid’s Best Friend
One reason diabetes is more common among minority groups such as Hispanics is due to location: Many Hispanics live in underserved communities and don’t access to team sports or fancy equipment. You don’t need either, though, to be active—and lower your child’s diabetes risk. “Just make it a priority to move,” says Melissa Hawthorne, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Houston. Soccer leagues, pick-up basketball, street ball—anything where kids are being active together sends them the message that fitness is fun—making them more likely to stick with it.
Reversal Usually Involves Weight Loss
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, you’re considered to be in remission from type 2 diabetes when you have normal blood sugar levels for six months without medication. Getting there usually requires losing weight—something that may be helped by joining a Facebook group or community support group where you’ll find people with similar goals. And remember, remission means your blood sugar levels are back in the healthy range, but it’ not a one-and-done deal: Says Yates, “You’re still vulnerable to type 2 diabetes if your weight creeps back up.”
Turn Your Family’s Future Around
Here’s the amazing thing with diabetes: If you can get your whole family to commit to healthy behaviors, not only are you reversing the course of your own diabetes, but you’re changing the future course for your whole family—even those who have not yet developed the disease. Start by signing yourself, your spouse, and your kids up for a local charity walk or fun run. The only goal? Crossing the finish line and having a good time. When it comes to diabetes, every little bit of activity helps.
Think Modification Not Elimination
As you set out to take control of this disease, keep in mind that all the foods you love are not forever off-limits. “You don’t have to completely give up your favorite foods that are a key part of your culture,” Hawthorne says. “What’s important is being mindful of how frequently you’re consuming these foods and understanding that portion sizes may need to be adjusted based on your health and situation.” In other words, rice and beans might become a once or twice a week meal, not a daily habit.
Reversing Diabetes Takes a Holistic Approach
It’s not just about diet and exercise—controlling stress and poor sleep habits are also key to staying on top of type 2 and prediabetes, Yates says. Sticking to a consistent sleep routine—shutting down screens an hour before bed and enjoying something relaxing like a bath—can help you get the deep sleep you need to help with insulin resistance. Developing go-to ways to keep calm in chaotic times can also help, so cue up a meditation app.
Hispanic Population and Diabetes: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). “National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the U.S.” cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf
Adults, Kids and Type 2 Diabetes: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). “Rates of New Diagnosed Cases of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Continue to Rise Among Children, Teens.” cdc.gov/diabetes/research/reports/children-diabetes-rates-rise.html
Diabetes and Weight Loss: National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. (2020). “Achieving Type 2 Diabetes Remission through Weight Loss.” niddk.nih.gov/health-information/professionals/diabetes-discoveries-practice/achieving-type-2-diabetes-remission-through-weight-loss
Hispanic Community and Exercise: Outdoor Industry Foundation. (2006). “The Hispanic Community and Outdoor Recreation.” develop.outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ResearchHispanic.pdf