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Can Keto Reverse Diabetes?

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  Published on September 28th, 2022
  Reading time: 5 minutes
  Last modified September 23rd, 2022
Woman with diabetes on keto testing blood sugar

The ketogenic diet has been widely studied as a treatment for a range of conditions, including diabetes. People with diabetes continue to share their keto success stories, including celebrities like Halle Berry, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age 22 and has lived a keto lifestyle for 30 years that allowed her to get off insulin. Also check out Oscar’s story of how he hacked his type 2 diabetes by going keto.

Of course, diabetes is more complex than carbohydrates alone, but drastically lowering sugar and carbohydrate consumption and increasing healthy fat consumption is particularly beneficial for regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. Let’s look at whether going keto can reverse diabetes.

Keto and Blood Sugar

Testing blood sugar while on keto

When blood sugar becomes more stable, the symptoms of diabetes usually improve. One way to naturally lower and stabilize blood sugar levels is to decrease your intake of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates and starches are broken down into glucose, so if you aren’t eating so many carbs in the first place, you won’t need to break it down to glucose, and it won’t spike your blood sugar levels. Going keto has been shown to improve insulin resistance and glucose metabolism and reduce blood sugar levels [1] [2].

Diabetes impacts how your body processes glucose, which is the simplest form of sugar. With diabetes, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, so you can’t properly convert glucose into energy, and your cells risk starvation. Without enough insulin to move the glucose into your cells, glucose builds up in your bloodstream and leads to high blood sugar levels, which can damage your organs, cells, and tissues over time.

Switching your body’s primary fuel from glucose to ketones not only feeds the cells and gives them a chance to repair, but it also boosts your metabolism and switches your dependence away from glucose. Over time, your cells may be able to respond properly to insulin again.

In a process called gluconeogenesis, your body can use dietary fat and protein to create the small amount of glucose your cells need to survive, so you don’t need to eat carbohydrates to survive. To clarify: there’s no essential sugar (glucose).

How Does Keto Improve Diabetes?

Keto isn’t just another diet; it’s a state of metabolism where you switch your fuel source from glucose (sugar) to fat instead. Carbohydrates turn to sugar in the body and some carbohydrates cause significant blood sugar spikes that can fuel diabetes.

Eating less sugar and carbohydrates means your body has less of a need for insulin, and blood sugar levels can stabilize. Ketogenic diets also help you ditch that excess abdominal (visceral) fat that’s implicated in worsening insulin resistance.

Scientific Evidence for Keto’s Benefits on Diabetes

Both scientifically and anecdotally, the ketogenic diet has shown promise as a treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and gestational diabetes.

In addition to the overwhelming number of stories you hear online, from friends and family, and on television, impressive studies reveal that going keto improves blood sugar and glycemic control and allows many people with diabetes to reduce or discontinue their medications and insulin. Even compared to other diets like low-glycemic and low-fat diets, keto takes the lead in managing diabetes [3] [4].

For example, in a small study, participants with type 2 diabetes followed a ketogenic diet of fewer than 20g of carbs daily for 16 weeks. Participants experienced a drop in triglycerides, HbA1c, and body weight. In just 16 weeks, ten participants reduced their diabetes medications, and seven participants ditched their medications entirely! [5]

Keto helps overweight people manage diabetes and has more significant beneficial effects than a low-calorie diet [6]. Many randomized controlled trials suggest that a ketogenic way of eating improves diabetes through multiple mechanisms [7] [8].

Can Keto Reverse Diabetes?

Many people will tell you that going keto reversed their diabetes and allowed them to get off their medications, so they no longer have to inject insulin. Often markers of a dysfunctional metabolism normalize, and symptoms diminish or vanish even after just a few months on keto! For some in the keto community who are dealing with diabetes, this is life-changing, and they might go so far as to call it a reversal of their condition! Even so, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to diabetes, particularly when it comes to diet.

An important question is: can you just stop your keto diet and become completely sedentary and eat heaps of sugar and hope you maintain the benefits? The answer is no. Chances are high that if you go back to the high-carb standard American diet, you’ll also go back to the metabolic dysfunction that comes along with it. Even if you’ve ‘reversed’ your diabetes, keep in mind that you could just as easily reverse your results and hard work if you consider keto just a temporary diet rather than a lifestyle change. However, it’s likely that you will be able to eat more carbs at times as you become metabolically stronger and more fat adapted. Lots of people with diabetes manage their diabetes with a ketogenic diet, but most people don’t have to remain in perpetual lifelong ketosis.

It’s always crucial that you focus your diet on natural whole foods like avocado and nuts, rather than processed foods, even if they claim to be diabetes- and keto-friendly.

Of course, it’s best to speak to your doctor before starting any new diet. Find a keto-friendly doctor using our handy keto doctor finder tool. Keep in mind that if you have diabetes, it’s a good idea to monitor your ketone and blood sugar levels. 

People with type 1 diabetes are also more at risk of developing ketoacidosis, which is a dangerous condition in which the body becomes overly acidic. If you have type 1 diabetes, be sure to work with a healthcare professional and follow a well-formulated ketogenic diet. Read our detailed article for more info on ketoacidosis

Has going keto improved your diabetes? Share your thoughts and stories with the keto community at Ketogenic.com!

References

1.

Alarim, R. A., Alasmre, F. A., Alotaibi, H. A., Alshehri, M. A., & Hussain, S. A. (2020). Effects of the ketogenic diet on glycemic control in diabetic patients: Meta-analysis of clinical trials. Cureus, 12(10), e10796. DOI: 10.7759/cureus.10796

2.

Yuan, X., Wang, J., Yang, S., Gao, M., Cao, L…Sun, C. (2020). Effect of the ketogenic diet on glycemic control, insulin resistance, and lipid metabolism in patients with T2DM: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Diabetes, 10(1), 38. DOI: 10.1038/s41387-020-00142-z

3.

Westman, E. C., Yancy, W. S., Jr, Mavropoulos, J. C., Marquart, M., & McDuffie, J. R. (2008). The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutrition & metabolism, 5, 36. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-5-36

4.

Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(8), 789–796. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2013.116

5.

Yancy, Jr, W. S., Foy, M., Chalecki, A. M., Vernon, M. C., & Westman, E. C. (2005). A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutr Metab (Lond), DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-2-34

6.

Hussain, T. A., Mathew, T. C., Dashti, A. A., Asfar, S., Al-Zaid, N., & Dashti, H. M. (2012). Effect of low-calorie versus low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet in type 2 diabetes. Nutrition, 28(10), 1016-21. DOI: 10.1016/j.nut.2012.01.016

7.

Hallberg, S. J., McKenzie, A. L., Williams, P. T., Bhanpuri, N. H., Peters, A. L…Volek, J. S. (2018). Effectiveness and safety of a novel care model for the management of type 2 diabetes at 1 year: An open-label, non-randomized, controlled study. Diabetes Ther, 9(2), 583-612. DOI: 10.1007/s13300-018-0373-9

8.

Cox, N., Gibas, S., Salisbury, M., Gomer, J., & Gibas, K. (2019). Ketogenic diets potentially reverse type 2 diabetes and ameliorate clinical depression: A case study. Diabetes Metab Syndr, DOI: 10.1016/j.dsx.2019.01.055

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