Diabetes: Medications, management, and lifestyle

Diabetes: Medications, management, and lifestyle

The main aim of diabetes treatment is to return blood sugar to a safe threshold and reduce the risk of complications while helping a person with diabetes to resume daily function.

In this article, we look at the treatments for types 1 and 2 diabetes, as well as the importance of insulin.

People can manage some cases of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle adjustments, so we also examine the steps a person can take in the early stages of diabetes to reverse its progression.


The main medication for managing type 1 diabetes is insulin.


People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin, as the pancreas of a person with type 1 does not produce the hormone. Supplementary insulin helps the cells in the body to absorb glucose and use energy.

A person with type 1 diabetes will need to receive insulin at several points throughout the day. Some doses of insulin will occur before or after a meal. With type 2 diabetes, insulin is not always necessary.

However, a doctor may recommend taking it at certain times, such as while pregnant or during an extended hospital admission.

Self-monitoring can help an individual decide when to take insulin.

Insulin has several different delivery methods. The most common methods include the following.

Insulin pump: This delivers small, continuous doses of insulin throughout the day.

Needle and syringe: An individual draws insulin fluid from a bottle and injects a shot. The most effective location is on the stomach, but a person can also administer a shot into the upper arm, the buttocks, or the thigh.

Some people need several shots to return blood glucose to an ideal level. Others might only require one shot.

Pen: Some insulin pens are disposable, while others offer space for a replaceable insulin cartridge. They are costlier than needles but easier to use and resemble a pen with a needle instead of a nib.

Less commonly, people might use the following to administer insulin:

Inhaler: Some types of insulin can be breathed in as a powder from an inhaler device. Inhaled insulin can reach the blood faster than other types. However, it is only suitable for adults who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Jet injector: This method delivers a fine, high-pressure spray into the skin instead of a needle injection.

Injection port: This contains a short tube that the person who needs insulin slots just beneath the skin. They would then inject insulin into the port with a pen or needle and syringe and fit a replacement every few days. An injection port gets around having to puncture the skin every day.

Aerobic exercise can support weight management, reduce blood glucose, and improve insulin use in the body.

Examples include:

  • brisk walks or long hikes
  • cycling, whether outdoor or using a machine
  • dance
  • water aerobics or low-impact aerobics classes
  • swimming
  • racquet sports
  • climbing the stairs
  • rowing
  • gardening

Strength training is also important, as improving muscle buildup increases how much glucose the body burns while it is at rest.

Activities that can improve muscle strength include:

  • lifting weights, either using machines, free weights, or household objects
  • resistance bands
  • calisthenics, such as squats, push-ups, or lunges
  • activities that involve high exertion, such as gardening

If a doctor finds ketones in the urine, it means that the body is burning fat instead of glucose. Excess ketones can be extremely dangerous, as the body cannot handle high levels of this waste product.

Do not exercise if ketones become apparent in the urine.

  • eggs
  • lean beef or pork
  • fish
  • skinless chicken or turkey
  • peanuts and nuts
  • dried beans
  • peas, such as chickpeas or split peas
  • meat alternatives, such as tofu


Consume only low-fat, non-dairy, or nonfat cheese, milk, and yogurt.

Foods with heart-healthy fats

Not all fat contributes to diabetes, and some types of fat help protect against its effects on the heart, including:

  • seeds and nuts
  • salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • avocado
  • oils that take a liquid form at room temperature, such as olive oil

Foods to avoid

A diabetes diet should exclude:

  • fried foods
  • salty foods, such as potato chips
  • sugary foods, including candy, ice cream, and cakes
  • drinks that contain added sugar, such as soda and energy drinks

Water should replace sweetened beverages. Swap the sugar in any coffee or tea for artificial sweeteners, such as stevia. Women should drink no more than one alcoholic beverage on any day, and men should limit alcohol intake to a maximum of two drinks.

Alcohol can reduce blood glucose levels too far for people who are taking insulin, increasing the risk of hypoglycemia. Eating food when drinking alcohol can reduce the risk.

Click here to learn about different types of insulin and how they can impact on mealtimes.


A person with diabetes in its early stages can reverse high blood glucose using regular, moderate-to-intense exercise, weight loss, and a balanced, low-sugar diet.

When full diabetes develops, it is often incurable, but a range of options is available to manage its effects.

These include insulin, which people commonly inject using a needle and syringe or pen, and a range of medications for managing blood sugar and improving insulin absorption and production.

Surgeries are available too, such as bariatric surgery and an artificial pancreas. However, these are the last resort and often not included within insurance coverage.


Will I always need to take insulin if I have type 1 diabetes?


If you have type 1 diabetes, you will always need to take insulin. The only cure is transplanting the pancreas or the islet cells.

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