November was National Diabetes Month, which every year reminds us of a disease that has grown to epidemic proportions here in the U.S. and around the world.
Type 2 diabetes is an especially big problem in the South—including our own Four States Area. That's because obesity is rampant in the region. The typical Southern diet, which includes a lot of fatty, fried and sweet foods, doesn't help. Diabetes requires lifelong management. Untreated it can lead to heart disease, stroke, loss of limbs and eventually death. Treatment usually involves oral medication or insulin injections.
But there is some good news. This week, the British medical journal The Lancet released a study that showed for that first time that weight loss can send Type 2 diabetes into remission for many folks—without drugs.
The study took a group of people with the disease and put them on a weight-loss plan. At the end of the study, almost half had lost about 30 lbs. each and showed no signs of the disease.
The diet—done under medical supervision—wasn't easy, which probably explains why only half the subjects succeeded. For five months the only thing they consumed were meal replacement shakes that gave about 850 calories a day, but with the right mix of nutrients. After that, for a few weeks they were gradually reintroduced to solid food and educated on making proper choices to maintain weight loss and their remission. Those who followed instructions and maintained their weight loss on their own continued to show no signs of diabetes after a year.
It's important to note that the study only covered those diagnosed no more than six years prior. It's possible, though not certain, such a dramatic reversal would not be possible with weight loss alone for those who have been living with Type 2 diabetes for a longer period of time.
Researchers described the study as a "watershed" moment for diabetes. And it offers hope to millions—including thousands in our area alone—if they are willing to do what it takes.
The shakes used in the study weren't the miracle. It was the weight loss. And as we all know there are few things harder than losing weight and keeping it off.
But in our view even the chance of reversing Type 2 diabetes is worth the sacrifice. Diabetes is a killer. This study offers a path to a longer life. You may have to say goodbye to fried chicken, cornbread and sweet tea. But you will be saying hello to so much more in the years to come.