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The Benefits of Weight Loss for Type 2 Diabetes: Prevent or Delay Complications and Other Health Risks

Need motivation to lose weight? These important facts and figures may tip the scale in your favor when preventing diabetes complications and other health problems.

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Why Weight Matters

For people who carry extra pounds, weight loss promises a host of health improvements. Trimming just 10-20 pounds can pay huge dividends in managing type 2 diabetes and other ailments -- and save you money on health care expenses.

Obesity causes a long list of problems -- type 2 diabetes is only one of them. "Excess weight is at the root of more than 50 medical problems," says Louis Aronne, M.D., clinical professor of metabolic research at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York City.

Fat in the Fire

Central obesity -- the accumulation of fat, or adipose tissue, around the abdomen and liver -- is the master switch that sets off many obesity-related health problems, Aronne says. This fat buildup can give some peoples’ bodies an apple-shape appearance.

Excess weight activates white blood cells that trigger inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation in turn causes fat cells to expand and put out larger-than-normal amounts of some hormones, such as insulin. This overflow of insulin turns off the spigot of other hormones involved in blood sugar control. There's also declining output of adiponectin, a hormone made in the adipose tissue that prevents type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The changes that occur with inflammation and insulin resistance are at the core of the many weight-related problems. "These changes don't show up overnight; they're years in the making and surprisingly also are involved with infertility, depression, and generally decreased energy," says Ronald Tamler, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center in New York City.

Modest is Mighty

When excess weight is lost, many conditions show improvement. "The benefits -- from lower glucose to having healthier skin -- seem endless," says Beth DeLauder, 46, of Stafford, Virginia, who has type 2 diabetes.

"I didn't know I felt so bad. I was clueless about the many ways my extra baggage (pounds) was impacting my health."

Weight loss need not be drastic. "Modest weight loss, 5-7 percent from starting weight, has what's called 'curious power' to lower glucose, because it's powerful beyond what would be expected," says Donna Ryan, M.D., professor emeritus at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and past president of The Obesity Society.

Best Time for Weight Loss

The sooner you trim down after learning you have type 2 diabetes, the better. You'll salvage more of your existing insulin-making beta cells. Losing weight can rack up even more health benefits for people who have prediabetes or risk factors for developing type 2 because they may have less insulin resistance and more beta cells.

Weight loss soon after type 2 diagnosis may minimize the need for blood glucose-lowering medicines for a few years.  

If you've lived with type 2 diabetes for a while and haven't lost weight, move forward now. Most people will experience at least a few benefits regardless of the number of pounds lost or how long they've had diabetes, Aronne says.

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