British researchers have good news for people with type 2 diabetes -- you don't need to lose a ton of weight to make a difference in your health.
In fact, they found that losing just 10% of your body weight during the first five years you have the disease can lead to remission of type 2 diabetes. That weight loss would be 18 pounds for someone who weighs 180 pounds.
It doesn't matter what diet helps you lose the weight. And it doesn't matter how slow or how quickly those pounds come off, the investigators found.
"Even small amounts of weight loss can help you achieve remission. Extreme dieting and exercising are not necessary," said study author Dr. Hajira Dambha-Miller, a general practice physician and clinical lecturer at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, in the United Kingdom.
"Type 2 diabetes should no longer be seen as a lifelong disease," she added. The disease can essentially be cured if you lose weight and keep it off, according to Dambha-Miller.
The researchers said that type 2 diabetes affects 400 million people around the world. It's typically considered a chronic, progressive disease. But significant weight loss through extreme dieting (less than 700 calories a day) can bring about remission in almost 90% of people with type 2 diabetes, the study authors noted. Weight-loss surgery also tends to bring on remission.
Intensive exercise coupled with a modest weight loss of 7% or less of body weight brought on remission in almost 12% of people in one study, according to the new report.
But maybe bringing on remission didn't need to be so hard, the researchers surmised.
"The existing evidence for achieving remission suggests extreme levels of exercise and rather restrictive diets. This is simply not realistic or achievable for my patients, especially in the longer term," Dambha-Miller said.
"It is also demotivating for my patients when they are unable to achieve large amounts of weight loss. Accordingly, we decided to look at modest weight loss over a longer period in a real-world population without any crazy diet or exercise requirements," she explained.
For the new study, the researchers followed the health of almost 900 people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes for five years. The study participants, aged 40 to 69, provided information on weight, activity levels, diet and alcohol consumption.
Thirty percent of the group had achieved type 2 diabetes remission at the five-year follow-up. Those who had achieved a 10% weight loss were 77% more likely to be in remission after five years, the findings showed.
There was no specific intervention in the study. "This means there were no mandatory exercise or dietary requirements. All our participants did different things and still managed to lose weight and beat diabetes into remission," Dambha-Miller said.
She said that experts don't know exactly how losing weight helps, but they hypothesize that as people lose weight, the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin start to work again. That means the body can properly use sugar from foods instead of letting it build up in the blood.
Dr. Berhane Seyoum, chief of endocrinology at Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State University in Michigan, wasn't involved in the current research, but said the findings are encouraging.
"People with type 2 diabetes can be encouraged to lose weight, and it doesn't matter how. They can do whatever is convenient for them. Controlling diabetes keeps you healthy, gives you more energy and makes you feel better," he said.
Seyoum also noted that any amount of weight loss can help the body use insulin better and will help with diabetes management.
The study was published online recently in the journal Diabetic Medicine.
Read more about weight loss and diabetes from the American Diabetes Association.