Why Is Type 2 Diabetes Still Called “a Progressive, Lifelong Disease”?

[NOTE: This is a combination Science Made Simple article and editorial, expressing my opinion.]

This past Wednesday March 24, 2021, Dr. James Muecke, a South Australia ophthalmologist who was the 2020 Australian of the Year, posted on Facebook that Diabetes Australia reworded their webpage from “Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition” to “Type 2 diabetes is often a progressive condition” — wording that Dr. Muecke calls;

a small, but significant change that will give some degree of hope to the 280 Australians diagnosed [with type 2 diabetes] every day“. 

Diabetes Australia’s change in phraseology occurred shortly after Diabetes Victoria  removed the words “Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition” entirely from its Type 2 Diabetes webpage — replacing it with nothing. This, Dr. Muecke said;

“gives tremendous hope to patients that their newly diagnosed condition can potentially be put into remission.”

I was curious what Diabetes Canada’s web site said and was saddened to discover that it stated that Type 2 diabetes is a progressive, life-long disease“.

Diabetes Canada: “Type 2 diabetes is a progressive, lifelong disease” (https://guidelines.diabetes.ca/docs/patient-resources/type-2-diabetes-the-basics.pdf)

We don’t tell people diagnosed with cancer they have “a progressive, lifelong disease” — but speak to them instead about treatment options and the possibility of remission. While some types of cancer are incurable and untreatable, in general people diagnosed with cancer are not told they have a “progressive, lifelong disease”. Why are people with type 2 diabetes told this? 

I think calling type 2 diabetes a progressive, lifelong disease is a vestige from before there was evidence that it could be put into remission. I think we need to change our terminology to reflect that it is now possible.

In February 2018, one year data from Virta Health’s outpatient study using a ketogenic diet intervention demonstrated that reversal of type 2 diabetes symptoms is sustainable over the long term — with HbA1c level at baseline being 7.6% ± 1.5% being reduced by 1.0% and the percentage of individuals with a HvA1C of <6.5% was 56% [1].

Virta Health’s 2-year data indicated that there were improvements in body weight and that improved blood sugar control was also largely sustained, and that significant metabolic markers and health improvements occurred while using a ketogenic approach in an outpatient setting, over the usual care model approach [2]. On average after one year, participants in the intervention (ketogenic) group lowered HbA1c from 7.7% to 6.3% and at two years, HbA1C of participants in the intervention group increased slightly to 6.7%. By comparison, HbA1C of the usual care control group was 7.5% at baseline, 7.6% at one-year, and 7.9% at two years.

Even a 2019 study using an calorie-restricted diet found that remission of type 2 diabetes within 1-year can be achieved at a cost below the annual cost of diabetes, including complications [3].

There is no cure for diabetes — at least not yet, but there are three documented ways to put type 2 diabetes into remission;

  1. a ketogenic diet [1,2]
  2. a low calorie energy deficit diet [4,5,6]
  3. bariatric surgery (especially use of the roux en Y procedure) [7,8]

Since there is evidence that both a well-designed ketogenic diet and a well-designed calorie-restricted diet put type 2 diabetes into remission (i.e. maintaining blood glucose  below the diabetes cut-offs),  we need to stop referring to type 2 diabetes as “a progressive, lifelong disease” — as if it is always the case. 

It can be a progressive, lifelong disease for those who would rather not make the significant dietary and lifestyle changes that are required to put it into remission (and as I outline in this article, this is a valid choice, too!)

People can choose to live WITH diabetes or to seek remission FROM it  — but they deserve to know that remission is possible.

More Info?

If you would like more information about how I can support you in aiming to put type 2 diabetes into remission, please let me know.

To your good health!

Joy

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References

  1. Hallberg, S.J., McKenzie, A.L., Williams, P.T. et al. Effectiveness and Safety of a Novel Care Model for the Management of Type 2 Diabetes at 1 Year: An Open-Label, Non-Randomized, Controlled Study. Diabetes Ther 9, 583–612 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13300-018-0373-9
  2. Athinarayanan SJ, Adams RN, Hallberg SJ, McKenzie AL, Bhanpuri NH, Campbell WW, Volek JS, Phinney SD, McCarter JP. Long-Term Effects of a Novel Continuous Remote Care Intervention Including Nutritional Ketosis for the Management of Type 2 Diabetes: A 2-Year Non-randomized Clinical Trial. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2019 Jun 5;10:348. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2019.00348. PMID: 31231311; PMCID: PMC6561315.
  3. Xin Y, Davies A, McCombie L, Briggs A, Messow CM, Grieve E, Leslie WS, Taylor R, Lean MEJ. Type 2 diabetes remission: economic evaluation of the DiRECT/Counterweight-Plus weight management programme within a primary care randomized controlled trial. Diabet Med. 2019 Aug;36(8):1003-1012. doi: 10.1111/dme.13981. PMID: 31026353.
  4. Lim EL, Hollingsworth KG, Aribisala BS, Chen MJ, Mathers JC, Taylor R. Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol. Diabetologia2011;54:2506-14. doi:10.1007/s00125-011-2204-7 pmid:21656330
  5. Steven S, Hollingsworth KG, Al-Mrabeh A, et al. Very low-calorie diet and 6 months of weight stability in type 2 diabetes: pathophysiological changes in responders and nonresponders. Diabetes Care2016;39:808-15. doi:10.2337/dc15-1942 pmid:27002059
  6. Lean ME, Leslie WS, Barnes AC, et al. Primary care-led weight management for remission of type 2 diabetes (DiRECT): an open-label, cluster-randomised trial. Lancet2018;391:541-51.
  7. Cummings DE, Rubino F (2018) Metabolic surgery for the treatment of type 2 diabetes in obese individuals. Diabetologia 61(2):257–264.
  8. Madsen, L.R., Baggesen, L.M., Richelsen, B. et al. Effect of Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery on diabetes remission and complications in individuals with type 2 diabetes: a Danish population-based matched cohort study, Diabetologia (2019) 62: 611. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-019-4816-2

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