Better Health Possible Through Virta's Prediabetes, Obesity, and Type 2 Diabetes Management Programs
By Elaine Young, Sophie Skallerud, and Katie Mahoney
Virta Health Clinic expands beyond its highly regarded type 2 diabetes "reversal" program: three new offerings focus on continuous remote care and low-carb eating to help more people improve their health, prevent diabetes, and reduce their risk of complications.
Virta Health recently announced the addition of three new programs to its virtual treatment clinic: prediabetes reversal, obesity treatment, and management for type 2 diabetes. Known for its type 2 diabetes reversal program, Virta is offering three new options to help more people with or without diabetes. Overall, the four programs should help reach a broader group of people beyond just those wanting to “reverse” their type 2 diabetes – while about 25 million people in the US have type 2 diabetes, nearly half of all adults in the country have obesity or prediabetes.
As a sidenote, in 2018 five diaTribe readers reviewed Virta and the company got glowing reviews; see our article, “Can You Reverse Type 2 Diabetes? diaTribe Readers Review Virta.” We’re in the midst of updating the piece for 2020 – but we had to jump in to share the good news that far more people with health conditions will be able to join Virta.
Type 2 diabetes reversal program
Virta’s flagship offering is its type 2 diabetes “reversal” program, which launched in 2017; note that Virta defines diabetes reversal as an A1C less than 6.5% with no diabetes medications taken other than metformin. The program is based on continuous remote care from healthcare professionals and coaches who help individuals manage diabetes – and possibly put some of them into remission – using daily app-based coaching and individual carbohydrate restriction. The type 2 diabetes reversal program is also Virta’s most well-studied program: 60% of people in a small pilot (262 participants) reversed their type 2 diabetes after one year, and 94% reduced or stopped insulin use. Notably, participants also lost 12% of their initial body weight on average during the first year and sustained this drop in the second year. See more on one-year results and two-year results from the type 2 diabetes reversal program.
Prediabetes reversal and obesity treatment programs
Virta’s new prediabetes reversal and obesity treatment programs were created for the 85 million adults who have prediabetes and 107 million adults who have obesity in the US. Participants in either of these programs will receive the same treatment as the type 2 diabetes reversal program, namely the carbohydrate restriction-based nutrition therapy and continuous remote care – Virta says that the program is effective in people with prediabetes or obesity, primarily by weight loss. Virta's observed 12% reduction in body weight is notable – it's more than double the FDA benchmark for approving weight loss medications. In addition to preventing health complications, the goal of the prediabetes reversal program is for participants to achieve normoglycemia, or stable glucose levels typical of someone without diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes management program
Virta’s type 2 diabetes management program also uses carbohydrate restriction and daily app-based coaching, but is less intensive than the type 2 reversal program. It aims to reduce A1C levels to below 7% for people with a starting A1C below 8%, or to 8% for those who are starting with an A1C above 8%. This compares to a target A1C of less than 6.5% in the reversal program. The diabetes management program offers personal guidance from a care team and gives participants the option to transition into the reversal program later.
How does Virta work?
Individuals enrolled in Virta have digital access to the Virta Clinic, where they interact with health coaches and their assigned physician, and can find educational resources. Virta’s healthcare professionals work with each participant to come up with a personal plan to implement and sustain a very low-carb, high-fat diet. This carb restriction leads to something called “nutritional ketosis” – when the body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates for energy, it starts using fat as an alternative form of fuel. To do so, fat is converted into ketones, which can be used for energy. To cause a controlled state of ketosis, the Virta program typically aims for less than 30 grams of carbs per day, with no limits on how many calories participants can consume overall (as long as the calories come from mostly fat and moderate protein). The good news is that this approach is science based, and type 2 diabetes remission or ‘reversal’ is definitely possible for many people.
Virta’s virtual care model includes both individual care and community groups to provide people with the support that is best for them. Overall, the four programs should help people reduce their risk of developing diabetes and health complications.
Many employers and health plans fully cover the cost of the Virta treatment. People without insurance coverage can use Virta for $249 per month for the first year (plus a $250 initiation fee) and $199 per month for subsequent years. To offset costs, Virta offers a need-based payment assistance program and is working with health plans to try to expand coverage.