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U of A researchers work to see if diet and exercise can lead to Type 2 diabetes remission

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A team at the University of Alberta is exploring whether a combination of diet and exercise can stop Type 2 diabetes progression in some people - or even put it into remission.

Early findings by researchers from the faculty of kinesiology, sport and recreation show after an intensive lifestyle intervention some patients can stabilize blood sugar levels without medications.

"They’ve been saying that for as long as I can remember," said Tori Blanchette. "But it’s us not taking it to heart."

Blanchette was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2014 - six months after her daughter was found to have Type 1 diabetes. She said their entire lives changed.

"Everything changes, the way you look at food, the way you look at physical activity, anything you do," said Blanchette.

"100 per cent it comes down to physical activity and food intake."

Social, economic and environmental influences are believed to have led to an alarming surge in diabetes in Alberta. Statistics from the Alberta Diabetes Links show rates have almost doubled in 10 years.

Professor Normand Boulé is concerned that Type 2 diabetes is now being diagnosed in younger individuals.

"Early intervention is paramount, given the more aggressive progression observed in younger patients," Boulé said.

His team at the U of A is building on results from research from the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT) done in the United Kingdom.

During that trial, participants had a low-energy meal replacement diet for 12 to 20 weeks.

Boulé said after a year, 46 per cent of participants were in remission, that number was 36 per cent after two years.

But that trial focused primarily on diet without a structured exercise regime. Boulé’s team is looking at the effectiveness of combining both to stop disease progression or put it into remission.

Blanchette said she ignored her own diabetes diagnosis for the first year to focus on taking care of her daughter.

"I was morbidly obese. I weighed 402 pounds. I was a very, very big woman and they literally threw my mortality in my face and told me that because I hadn’t taken care of my diabetes for that first year," she recalled.

Blanchette changed her eating habits, became more active, and with help from a bariatric surgery, now weighs 165 pounds.

"My Type 2 diabetes is in remission," she said.

She’s been in remission for four years but said keeping a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy.

"I promised myself I was never going to have Type 2 diabetes. I was never going to poke myself with insulin again because that is 100 per cent a choice," Blanchette said.

Her 20-year-old son weighs 450 pounds and Blanchette said she now worries about his potential to develop the disease.

"Because he has not made that choice, he’s going to develop Type 2 probably by the time he’s 25 and that is heartbreaking because I know what it’s like to go through that and what it does to your body. But I can’t do it for them," she said.

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