9 Science-Backed Strategies to Help Reverse Diabetes

With simple diet and lifestyle changes, some people can drop their blood sugar levels back to a normal range.

by Alyssa Jung

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First, start exercising
“I always tell patients that the most important change they can make is getting more exercise,” says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, a Cleveland Clinic endocrinologist. The University of Alabama at Birmingham recruited more than 5,000 overweight adults with type 2 diabetes and assigned them to either an intensive weight-loss program or an education and support intervention. After one year, 11.5 percent of those in the intensive group (who reduced their intake to between 1,200 and 1,800 calories a day and increased activity levels to 175 minutes per week) experienced diabetes remission, compared to just 2 percent in the support and education group.

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association released a report in a 2010 issue of Diabetes Care that analyzed multiple studies on the effect of exercise on type 2 diabetes management and concluded that regular exercise helps control insulin resistance and blood glucose levels.

Make friends with cinnamon
Can a teaspoon of cinnamon really make your blood sugar go down? A study in the journal Nutrition Research found that patients with type 2 diabetes who took a higher dose of cinnamon lowered their blood glucose levels more than those who consumed less of the spice. Other studies from Pakistan and Germany found that larger doses of cinnamon lowered fasting blood sugar more than smaller doses or a placebo. More, larger studies need to be done, but researchers believe the high antioxidant content of cinnamon might make the spice a useful tool in managing diabetes. Sprinkle some cinnamon into your oatmeal or yogurt, make baked apples and cinnamon for a healthy, fiber-filled dessert, or use cinnamon instead of sugar to flavor your coffee.
Turmeric and cumin have also been shown to reduce inflammation signals that are often overactive in people with diabetes, as well as improve insulin response, according to

Eat less red meat
Cutting out burgers, bacon, and steak may help you say goodbye to diabetes. According to an article from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the high iron content of red meat makes insulin less effective and may even damage the pancreas cells that produce it; high levels of sodium and nitrites found in processed meats like bacon may have a similar effect. Researchers who analyzed data on 440,000 people from multiple studies found that those who eliminated red or processed red meat from their diet lowered their diabetes risk by 35 percent. The American Diabetes Association suggests choosing plant-based proteins like beans or nuts, lean poultry like chicken, and seafood, which are all low in fat.

Or just consider going vegan
iStock/Patrick Heagney

Vegan diets tend to be low in fat and high in fiber, protein, and other essential vitamins and minerals, a combination that might help rebalance your blood sugar. According to a report in Diabetes Spectrum, 43 percent of diabetics who follow a vegan diet reduced their diabetes medications, compared to 26 percent who followed a conventional diet that included meat. When choosing your veggies, variety matters. One British study from the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge found that adults who consumed 16 different kinds of produce a week were 40 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who ate half that amount.

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Pick up yoga
A small study from India found that people with diabetes who took yoga classes kept their glucose levels steady and even lost a few pounds. Mental stress can lead to a rise in blood sugar in people with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, so the stress-relieving aspects of mountain pose or downward-facing dog are likely responsible for keeping glucose levels healthy.

Try fish oil
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements are known for keeping your heart and brain healthy, but new research suggests they might help manage diabetes, too. A 2013 study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed 14 clinical trials where about half of participants took fish oil and half took a placebo. Those who took fish oil increased their adiponectin levels (an important hormone that regulates glucose) more than the placebo group did, which lead to better glucose control and fat metabolism. “Fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties, and because insulin resistance is associated with inflammation, we recommend fish oil to our patients,” Scott Drab, PharmD,  director of University Diabetes Care Associates in Greensburg, Pennsylvania told

Partake in happy hour
iStock/Cathy Yeulet
In moderation—and moderation is key!—alcohol may actually help manage diabetes. Moderate amounts of alcohol (up to one drink a day for women and two a day for men) makes insulin more efficient at getting glucose inside cells, while other studies indicate moderate alcohol consumption decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to an article from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Quit smoking
iStock/Robert Herhold
Smoking takes a toll on more than your lungs. Diabetes patients who smoke have higher blood sugar levels, which makes the disease harder to control and increases the risk of developing complications like blindness or heart problems. A new study at California State Polytechnic University found that the nicotine in cigarettes is to blame. When added to human blood, nicotine raised blood sugar by as much as 34 percent, according to

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Consider surgery
Though it’s obviously more extreme than maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle, bariatric surgery is an effective way to reverse diabetes in severely obese individuals. In a study published in JAMA Surgery, 40 percent of gastric bypass patients and 29 percent who received a gastric band went into remission from diabetes, compared to zero percent from a lifestyle group. Study authors don’t credit weight loss for the success, but instead to anatomy changes of the stomach and intestines, which produce hormones that affect insulin regulation.

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