The diagnosis of diabetes can be devastating. Type 2 Diabetes is a serious epidemic that afflicts more than 29 million people in the United States today. It is the 7th most common cause of death. Science has come a long way in helping us to understand the cause, treatment, and prevention of the disease, yet there is still a staggering amount of misleading, outdated, and incorrect information in circulation.
It might sound horrible, but your OWN physician could be perpetuating this misinformation. He or she, along with the media and various “trusted” health resources, like the American Diabetes Association, may be unintentionally leading you down the wrong path. A very, dark, bumpy path, and one that does not bring you to where you want to go.
The truth is that mainstream medicine deals with the disease all wrong. Once diagnosed with diabetes, most patients are told that they will need to take blood sugar lowering medication for the rest of their life, and they can expect the condition to get worse as they age.
This is one of several myths.
Talk about doom and gloom! A bleak future and a lifetime of popping pills is exactly what you will get if you listen to that kind of advice. But what is a patient to do? Most listen to their doctors, taking their medicine and following the recommended low-fat diet without realizing that they are sabotaging their potential for a healthy future.
That’s right, everyone, even diabetics, have the potential for a healthy future.
There are a few popular myths that we need to debunk regarding diabetes.
Myth # 1 Diabetes Always Gets Worse.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the American Diabetes Association, and the curriculum currently taught at most medical schools, diabetes is a progressive disease. This means that over time, the condition will get worse. Doctors are taught in medical school (during the quick 5 hours devoted to diabetes education) to prescribe insulin and blood sugar lowering drugs to slow down the inevitable progression of the disease.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that “Diabetes is preventable and controllable.” This is a fact. Taking a functional approach to the condition that incorporates diet, exercise, rest, stress reduction, and supplementation can stop the disease in its tracks. Not only will the condition stabilize with the proper lifestyle changes, but it can improve and even completely reverse and stay that way as long as the lifestyle changes are continued.
Myth # 2: There is nothing you can do about it, Diabetes is genetic
There certainly is a genetic component to diabetes, so this point is partially true. Unlike some inherited traits (like eye color), diabetes does not seem to be passed down in a simple pattern. Yet clearly, some people are born more likely to develop diabetes than others. Whether diabetes actually develops depends on many environmental factors (such as diet, climate, exposure to toxins or viruses, stress, and exercise) in addition to genetics.
Even once diabetes has developed, there is always something you can do to make your condition better. How much better depends on the type of diabetes that you have.
What’s your Type?
Type 2 Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a chronic health condition traditionally characterized by elevated levels of glucose in your blood, or simply high blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic condition that involves dysfunction of the hormones insulin and leptin. The vast majority, about 90-95%, of all diabetics have type 2. Modifications to diet and lifestyle can effectively treat and reverse Type 2 diabetes in most individuals.
Type 1 Diabetes, also known as “juvenile onset diabetes” is the less-common type, affecting about one in 250 Americans. Genetics play a major factor in this type of diabetes, however, something in the environment, like a virus, must trigger it. Some new research even points to the introduction of certain foods, such as cow’s milk to infants, as a possible trigger. In Type 1 diabetes, your own immune system kills the insulin-producing cells of your pancreas. As a result, type 1 diabetics cannot produce the hormone insulin and need to supplement daily in order to survive. At the current time, other than a pancreas transplant, there is no known cure for Type 1 diabetes. However, those with Type 1 diabetes can improve the quality of their life and lessen the severity of their symptoms with the proper diet, exercise, and lifestyle behaviors.
This article will focus primarily on the more common and most misunderstood condition – Type 2 diabetes.
Myth # 3: As long as you take your meds, diabetes is no big deal
Diabetes is so common these days; over 347 million people worldwide are faced with the condition, and many more are pre-diabetic. Pre-diabetics have a consistently high blood sugar and some level of insulin resistance. If they continue with their current lifestyle, they will develop diabetes in a short time.
Due to the prevalence of the disease, its severity can sometimes be downplayed. Most conventional doctors seem to take a casual approach to the condition, telling their pre-diabetic patients to “watch their sugar intake,” and assuring them that once their blood sugar gets high enough, a prescription can be written.
Unfortunately, many of the blood sugar lowering medications that are commonly prescribed today do very little to address the actual problem. Yes, people with diabetes do have high blood sugar. We test for diabetes by checking blood sugar levels. So conventional medicine, in its reductionist approach, corrects the “problem” of high blood sugar by using a drug to lower the levels. Problem solved.
If only it were that easy. As with any health condition, diabetes cannot be resolved by simply covering up the most obvious symptom. Blood sugar is high because of a dysfunction elsewhere in the body. In the case of diabetes, it is a metabolic condition where a situation of insufficient insulin or insulin resistance is taking place. Other hormones are often dysfunctional, as well, including leptin and cortisol.
Besides high blood sugar, common symptoms of insulin resistance or insufficiency include weight gain, inflammation, fatigue, heart disease, and neurological issues.
Guess what? These are also the most common side-effects of blood sugar lowering medications.
Where Does All the Sugar Go?
When someone takes a medication designed to lower blood sugar, where do you suppose the sugar goes? When it leaves the blood, it gets shuttled to one of two places. New fat cells can be created to store this sugar, resulting in weight gain and cardiovascular problems, or the sugar can be shuttled into the cell forcefully, resulting in cellular death, which, depending on the type of cell that is dying, can cause a myriad of health issues.
You see, these medications lower blood sugar, but at a price. They do not address the source of the disease, or the other symptoms. In fact, most patients taking blood sugar lowering meds can experience these other symptoms even more severely.
On December 17, 2008, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that aggressive use of blood sugar lowering medication to prevent disease was a complete failure. It wasn’t that lowering blood sugar in this patient population didn’t do anything; it made the patients heavier and more hypoglycemic. Another study, the ACCORD trial (Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes), conducted earlier in 2008, found a 22 percent increased rate of death in diabetic patients who were aggressively treated with medications
Why are doctors still prescribing the medications to their patients? Well, it’s partially the influence of who profits from the sales of these medications and at the same time fund much of the medical education that your doctor received. One of the biggest reasons is the unfortunate fact that it takes roughly 15-17 years before new research is put into mainstream medical practice.
Now don’t, get me wrong there is a time and place for medicine when symptoms are severe and immediate aid is needed until healthier lifestyle habits can be put in place.
The good news is that we live in a time where we can take control of our own health, do our own research, and make the smart decisions for ourselves and our families. Understanding the science behind any health condition is the best place to start when looking for the best treatment.
Blood Sugar 101
When you eat any food, your insulin level will rise. Higher amounts of refined carbohydrates or simple sugars will raise your insulin faster and in greater amounts. Foods with high fiber content slow the rate at which insulin is raised. When you eat a large meal, regardless of the type of calories, it causes a large surge in insulin that your body must manage.
Thus, the primary role of insulin is NOT to lower your blood sugar, but to enable glucose to enter to cells for use as energy and to aid in protein synthesis. Its ability to lower your blood sugar is merely a “side effect” of this energy storage process.
Insulin is like a shuttle bus for blood sugar, and its job is to bring the sugar to various locations in the body that need it. In a healthy person, insulin drops off a whopping 60 percent of the sugar at your liver, which acts as a warehouse, converting the blood sugar to glycogen for storage. Blood sugar is fuel for the cells of the body. Your brain must have a regular supply, otherwise you will start to feel light-headed. Muscles also need sugar for fuel. So, the more active you are, the more sugar you can handle.
As you are eating, some of the insulin transports blood sugar to your adipose tissues. When the blood sugar is taken up by fat cells, it activates their metabolism, producing the hormone leptin. When leptin levels get high enough, meaning you have eaten enough, then leptin tells your subconscious brain you are full. At the same time, the higher levels of leptin also tell your pancreas that you are full, which turns off the production of insulin, as no more shuttle buses are needed.
When you eat the right amounts and types of food for your metabolic type and activity level, insulin and leptin rise and fall in a controlled manner, and blood sugar always has a healthy place to go.
When there is an excess of blood sugar in relation to what the cells of your body needs, then insulin stimulates the production of triglycerides, which become stored fat. This is how people gain weight. The elevated triglycerides in your blood create interference, hindering leptin from getting to the brain. Since the brain doesn’t get the “I’m full” message from the leptin, you continue to eat. This is called “Leptin Resistance.” The more you eat, the more triglycerides insulin will produce, making it even more likely you will gain weight.
Over time, the cells get tired of the blood sugar shuttles trying to drop off unwanted blood sugar. Over and over again, the shuttle pulls up with blood sugar looking for a home. After a while, the cells lock their doors and ignore the insulin completely. This is called “Insulin Resistance.” The cells do this as a self-defense measure. You see, if they take in more sugar than they need, it could kill them.
If this problem goes on, blood sugar levels continue to rise, insulin resistance gets worse, leptin resistance gets worse, cholesterol levels go up, blood pressure goes up, triglyceride levels go up, and inflammation really starts heating up. Eventually, this leads to type 2 diabetes, along with many risk factors for heart disease, and then heart and kidney disease lock into place.
When this delicate balance of blood sugar to insulin and leptin is damaged, weight is gained and fat begins to accumulate in excess in your liver. The fat clogs your liver’s metabolism, and reduces its ability to store sugar. This is liver insulin resistance caused by fatty buildup. This means that you are much more likely to become hypoglycemic or have low blood sugar between meals because you don’t have enough sugar in your warehouse to use for blood sugar between meals.
This same fatty liver problem also gets in the way of how glucagon would burn fat between meals, causing glucagon to synthesize sugar in an inappropriate and out-of-control manner, making blood sugar go high even though you haven’t eaten. This is why diabetics wake up with very high fasting blood sugar levels.
The FDN Approach to Diabetes
From a functional standpoint, Type 2 diabetes is completely preventable and controllable. The key lies in a true understanding of the underlying cause (which is impaired insulin and leptin sensitivity) and implementing simple, inexpensive lifestyle adjustments that result in phenomenal benefits to your health.
“Treating” diabetes by merely concentrating on lowering blood sugar can be a dangerous approach, because it does not address in any way, shape, or form the actual issue of metabolic miscommunication. Similarly, taking insulin will only make leptin and insulin resistance worse over time. The only known way to correct the metabolic dysfunction is through diet and lifestyle modifications
Diet: Eat a whole foods, minimally processed diet of organic animal proteins, seeds, vegetables, and healthy fats suitable for your metabolic type. Full-fat dairy is permissible for those who tolerate it. Avoid artificially sweetened and reduced fat foods, even those that claim to be “diabetes friendly.”
Eliminate all grains and sugars. This includes “healthy grains” such as whole, organic, and sprouted breads and pastas. Avoid cereals, flour, rice, corn, and white potatoes as these will raise your blood sugar. Until blood sugar is under control, limit fruits to berries and other low glycemic options. Once your blood sugar is under control items like potatoes, rice, and a wider variety of fruits can be added back in. Unfortunately, the American Diabetes Association’s dietary recommendations of a low fat diet rich in whole grains continue to fail because of some seriously flawed dietary principals.
Exercise. Getting in shape and staying fit is highly important in getting diabetes and other diseases under control. In fact, it is one of the fastest, most powerful ways to lower your insulin and leptin resistance. Of course, for those who are overweight or have been accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle, the thought of embarking on an exercise plan can be intimidating.
You don’t have to join a gym or “feel the burn” for hours on end. You can keep it simple and start small. Aim for a total of 30 minutes of exercise per day, which you can break up into three 10 minute sessions. Go for a walk, take a yoga class or anything that gets you moving. Try incorporating more movement into your day. Mow your own lawn, walk to the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Rest: Getting proper sleep is essential to get your body operating efficiently. Insufficient sleep can undermine your blood sugar control. Experts also believe that chronic sleep deprivation may lead to elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Elevated cortisol can promote insulin resistance. Additionally, lack of sleep reduces leptin levels, which sets sleep deprived individuals up to eat more food than they need.
Stress Reduction: Stress, in any form, can trigger increased cortisol production, which as we just mentioned, can lead to insulin resistance. Make an effort to eliminate stressful situations and relationships from your life. Simplify your schedule, and be sure to take time out for yourself. Some great stress reduction practices include yoga, meditation, walking in nature, hugs, laughter, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
Supplementation: Because individual requirements vary, and even natural herbal supplements can interact with prescription medications, it is best that you work with a trained practitioner, such as a FDN, to determine which supplements may help to support and improve your condition. Some effective supplements for diabetes include: Magnesium, Vitamins D and C, Chromium, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and CoEnzyme Q10. Additionally, a quality probiotic can be helpful. Consult with your FDN practitioner to determine a supplement plan to meet your needs.
There you have it. A natural, medication free, optimistic approach to overcoming Type 2 diabetes. The only side effects of this approach is better health, clearer thinking, more energy, and effortless weight-loss.