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Sep 14, 2017

Healthy Lifestyle Reduces Need for Medication in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes

Study participants undertook regular exercise and a personalized meal plan that promoted a healthy weight.

Exercise and a healthy diet reduce the need for diabetes medication, based on a trial that tested the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this study compared the effects of both medication and a healthy lifestyle on type 2 diabetes. It was designed to test whether a healthy lifestyle and medication work equally as well in controlling blood sugar, which is a major goal of diabetes management.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, which affects more than 360 million people worldwide. It occurs when the body does not use or make insulin the way it should, resulting in high blood sugar. When patients are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a healthy lifestyle and medication are recommended to promote blood sugar control and reduce risk of complications. However, it’s possible that a healthy lifestyle and diet might be enough to treat some patients with type 2 diabetes.

To further explore, researchers conducted a trial of 93 Danish adults recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. One-third of participants were randomly assigned to standard care for one year, which included counseling, education and medication. The remaining participants were assigned to a lifestyle intervention, which included regular exercise and a personalized meal plan that promoted a healthy weight. Exercise sessions were held 5–6 times a week and included aerobic activity as well as resistance training.

After tracking participants’ blood sugar throughout the study period, researchers found that average blood sugar decreased among both groups. However, the effects of the lifestyle intervention were not considered “equal” to that of standard care. Researchers also found that the lifestyle program was associated with more adverse events, although most were due to muscle pain or mild cases of low blood sugar.

The good news is that 74% of adults in the lifestyle group reduced the number of diabetes medications over the study period, compared to just 26% in the standard care group.

What findings show, according to authors, is that a healthy lifestyle has similar effects on blood sugar control as medication, although it was not deemed equal to medication in this trial. Findings also suggest that exercise and diet help eliminate the need for diabetes medications, which is promising. With further research, experts hope to continue to explore the effects of a healthy lifestyle on blood sugar control.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce any insulin—a hormone that converts sugar into energy. This type of diabetes is often diagnosed in children and young adults and cannot be prevented. Type 2 diabetes, however, occurs when the body resists insulin or does not produce enough insulin, and can be prevented in some patients.
  • How can I prevent type 2 diabetes?

  • Although unknown exactly why some individuals develop type 2 diabetes and some don’t, there are some known risk factors for this condition, like being overweight and inactive. There are also risk factors that can’t be controlled, such as family history, age and race.

Infographic: Diabetes

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