There are many therapies to reduce the severity and symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Most therapies for diabetes improve blood sugar control through medications. However, fat loss is a different approach, with different results. Fat loss doesn’t just control blood sugar. It can lead to type 2 diabetes remission in some cases!
Diabetes remission is when your blood sugar is well-controlled without medications for at least one year. Diabetes remission does not mean that your diabetes is cured. If fat is regained, blood glucose control will deteriorate, and medications might again be required for symptom management. However, if fat loss can be maintained, it is possible to remain symptom-free without medications for years. Fat loss includes several other benefits as well. It reduces the risk of many other chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, some cancers, osteoarthritis, hypertension, and sleep apnea. A better mood, more energy, better quality sleep, and an easier time exercising are also added benefits for most people.
How Does Fat Loss Improve Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes probably makes you think of sugar, or glucose. It is a disease characterized by poor blood sugar control. But in reality, fat storage dysfunction is at the root of Type 2 Diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes happens when you are “insulin resistant,” which means your tissues are resistant to a hormone called insulin. When you are healthy, insulin is released into your bloodstream by your pancreas after a meal is digested and blood sugar is high. Insulin helps your tissues take up and store the sugar from your meal. That is how insulin brings blood sugar back to normal levels after meals. This healthy, normal process is called “glycemic control.” But when insulin resistance sets in, and glycemic control is no longer functioning, the result is that your blood sugar becomes too high and stays too high. That is when you have type 2 diabetes.
A buildup of fat in your pancreas, your muscle, and your liver drives insulin resistance. Usually, fat is stored in fat tissue. But when your fat tissue is overloaded, the fat can no longer be stored there, and it infiltrates other organs. The fat in those other organs interferes with their normal functions. When fat is stored in the liver, for example, it becomes insulin resistant. The same is true when fat is stored in skeletal muscle. When fat is stored in the pancreas, that interferes with insulin production and secretion, making the problem even worse.
Fat loss reduces the overload that fat tissue experiences in obesity so that fat can be stored correctly again. Fat loss from the body reduces the spillover in other tissues. When the fat stored in fat tissue is reduced, there is no longer any need to store fat elsewhere. This greatly improves insulin sensitivity and pancreatic function. That is how fat loss can lead to diabetes remission.
How Common is it to Experience Type 2 Diabetes Remission from Fat Loss?
Of the people who attempt fat loss treatment, 36% achieve diabetes remission. Complete remission is more likely for some people than others. It occurs in those who have better pancreatic function to start. It is also more likely in people who have had diabetes for a shorter time. So, the best time to lose fat is as soon as you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. If you know you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, but you haven’t been diagnosed yet and currently have a high body fat percent, fat loss can also reduce your risk of diabetes onset.
Importantly, even if fat loss does not achieve complete remission, you can still reduce the severity of symptoms. It can also reduce your dose of medication or change the type of medication. Therefore, it is worthwhile to engage in fat loss to improve your overall health if you have type 2 diabetes or if you are at high risk for type 2 diabetes.
You might be wondering if following a low carbohydrate fat loss diet is helpful for diabetes remission or if they type of diet matters. The type of fat loss diet used does not matter as much as the total amount of fat lost. The more fat lost, the more likely you are to experience remission. So, the best fat loss approach is the one that will work for you.
How do I Find an Effective Fat Loss Diet Approach for Type 2 Diabetes Remission?
Fat loss looks quite different from weight loss. Weight loss can be from loss of body water, skeletal muscle, or fat. It is easy to make the body lose weight quickly through lost water weight. Many approaches that promise a lot of weight loss in a short time actually work through water loss. Obviously, that won’t help diabetes, since fat storage dysfunction is at the root of diabetes! So be careful of anything that sounds too good to be true.
Fat loss approaches prioritize the loss of fat specifically. That requires a moderate reduction of calorie intake for a prolonged period of time. It also helps if the diet is rich in protein to help preserve your skeletal muscle and strength while you lose fat. The most important factor for a fat loss diet to improve diabetes is that it promotes a balanced diet that you can stick with for a few months to lose a meaningful amount of body fat.
Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Officer