Can diabetes complications be reversed?
We know that a healthy diet and careful blood glucose control can slow the development of diabetes complications, but can it reverse them altogether? In this article, Dr. Ian Lake takes a look at the evidence.
There are fascinating reports that suggest diabetes complications are reversible. Many will know the story of Dr. Richard Bernstein, who had kidney, eye and neurological complications as a result of type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Bernstein documented his story in his book Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. Remarkably, against orthodox practice, he worked out what we now recognise as the ketogenic diet, and found that, by improving his control, he could reverse his complications.
Researchers in Japan reached similar conclusions when they examined the effects of a kidney transplant. The donor had type 2 diabetes, the recipient did not. At the time of the transplant, the kidneys had changed as a result of the diabetes, but after a year in the non-diabetic recipient those changes had reversed.
There was also a report from a kidney donor with type 1 diabetes who had been showing signs of diabetic kidney disease. Within six months of being transplanted into a non-diabetic host, the kidney disease had disappeared completely. There are also reports of diabetes complications being reversed after pancreas transplants.
All of which suggests that it is not only possible to slow complications, but to reverse them completely.
If complications can be reversed, how does one go about reversing them?
The body, being a living biological thing, is able to heal itself to some degree. But to give our bodies the chance to heal themselves, we have to stop the thing that is causing the damage, which, in the case of diabetes, is elevated blood glucose levels.
When we bring our blood glucose levels back to “safe” levels, the damage to the body stops, and there is an opportunity for healing. However, this requires healthy blood glucose levels sustained over a significant length of time.
There is significant anecdotal evidence of this, particularly from members of the Diabetes.co.uk forum who have adopted a low-carb diet. Users have reported success in reversing complications including neuropathy and kidney damage symptoms. A study in 2011 reversed kidney disease in a group of mice by feeding them a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.
It’s similar to the debate about reversing type 2 diabetes. Many have found that by maintaining optimal blood glucose control over a lengthy period of time, they reduce their type 2 symptoms to the point of reversal.
To conclude, evidence suggests that complications do not have to be a permanent thing. If you have complications, try not to resign yourself to the idea that they will steadily get worse. With good blood glucose control, they can become less severe – or even go away completely.
Dr. Lake is a sessional GP based in Gloucestershire. He has type 1 diabetes and is an advocate of the low-carb, high-fat diet to be adopted as the standard diet in carbohydrate intolerance.