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Even diabetics who have resorted to weight loss surgery have seen their blood sugar levels return to normal.
Lucy Cain, 61, of Dallas tried to control her diabetes through diet and exercise after she was diagnosed in 2004. But she found it difficult, and two years later had gastric bypass surgery. The 5-foot-7 Cain, who once weighed over 300 pounds, is down to about 185, still losing weight and is off diabetes medication.
Whatever the route, weight loss is key, doctors say.
"There is no special diet. You've got to eat fewer calories than your body burns," said Dr. Robert Rizza, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist and former president of the American Diabetes Association.
Many doctors stop short of calling these successful patients cured.
Dr. Philipp Scherer, director of the diabetes research center at University of Texas Southwestern, describes diabetes as a one-way road. He said it can be stopped in its tracks with diet and exercise, but there's no turning back.
Dr. Kevin Niswender, an assistant professor in the department of medicine at Vanderbilt Medical Center, said "technically, you could call somebody cured," but that patient still needs to be followed closely.
Doctors caution that, for some diabetics, lowering blood sugar may be only temporary. Stress, weight gain and other factors can push it back to unhealthy levels.
"Blood sugars can come down to normal. Then the issue is, How long does that last?" said Dr. Sue Kirkman, vice president of clinical affairs for the diabetes association. "Sometimes people start putting weight back on and their blood sugars come back up."
In other cases, patients are diagnosed so late that blood sugar levels can't be brought back to normal, even with weight loss, she said. As the disease progresses, even those who made diet and lifestyle changes might eventually have to go on medications.
That's one reason Wagner and some other diabetics who've managed their disease through diet and exercise are also reluctant to consider themselves "cured."
"American culture, our environment, is not conducive to having good health," said Wagner. She believes diabetes will always be lurking in the background, waiting for her to slip.
On the Net:
American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org/
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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