Doctor’s Tip: Reversing type 2 diabetes
Last week’s column defined diabetes and prediabetes and discussed what causes them. Today’s column is about how to reverse them. “Prediabetes” is a misnomer, because it is actually an early stage of diabetes and causes the same complications such as cardiovascular disease; eye disease; kidney failure; neuropathy; slow wound healing; amputations; inflammation; and weakened immunity. What a lot of diabetic sufferers — and many providers including diabetic educators — don’t know is that type 2 diabetes is reversible through lifestyle changes if caught early enough.
Type 2 diabetes is one of the primary causes of death and disability in this country, and its prevalence is increasing as more Americans of all ages become overweight. As we export our lifestyle to the rest of the planet, diabetes is becoming a worldwide pandemic (this term can apply to conditions other than infectious diseases).
As discussed last week, glucose is the primary energy source for all the cells in our body. For good health, blood glucose levels must stay within certain parameters, and when they don’t the result is diabetes. The beta cells in the pancreas secrete insulin as needed to keep glucose levels in check. As Dr. Michael Greger puts it, insulin is “the key that unlocks the doors to your cells to allow glucose to enter.” Fat in the cells of our muscles, organs and other tissues “gums up the locks,” preventing glucose from entering the cells—a condition called insulin resistance (I.R.). Blood sugar levels rise, and these abnormal levels harm small and large arteries, contributing to the complications listed in the first paragraph. To try an overcome insulin resistance, the pancreas puts out more and more insulin, and eventually wears out and some of the beta cells die.
Insulin resistance-causing cellular fat comes from two sources: from overflow from our own fat stores if we’re overweight, and from fat we eat. The type of fat we eat makes a difference. For example, palmitate is a fat found primarily in meat, dairy and eggs and causes insulin resistance. However, oleate is a monounsaturated fat found mostly in nuts, olives and avocados does not. However, essentially all type 2 diabetics are overweight, and avoiding too much of any type of fat helps with weight loss (a tablespoon of any type of fat including oil contains 120 calories). Not only does saturated fat from animal products “gum up the cellular locks” but it also is toxic to the pancreatic insulin-producing beta cells. So saturated fat causes a “double whammy.”
To some, this might sound like a vegan conspiracy theory, but it’s based on a lot of evidence. It also makes evolutionary sense, in that humans evolved over 25 million years from tree dwelling plant-eaters, and by the time they were hunters as well as gatherers, the human genome was essentially fully developed. Furthermore, the jaw and GI structures of humans are those of herbivores, not carnivores. The reason so many modern humans suffer from diseases such as diabetes is that they’re not eating what they’re genetically meant to be eating.
Diabetes-promoting pollutants such as PCBs and hexachlorobenzene also contribute to insulin resistance/pre-diabetes. According to Dr. Greger is his book “How Not to Die,” 95 percent of obese-causing and diabetes-causing environmental pollutants are found in animal products — especially fish. Furthermore, these pollutants are stored in body fat and unless weight loss occurs, they may take 50 to 75 years to clear.
What’s the bottom line for reversing diabetes?
• First, catch pre-diabetes at an early stage, before complications have occurred and beta cells destroyed. The gold standard for early diagnosis is a two-hour glucose tolerance test, with a one-hour value of 125 or over or two-hour value of 120 or over indicating insulin resistance.
• Eat a 100% plant-based, unprocessed food diet with no salt, sugar or added oil.
• Eat a variety of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes (beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, split peas) daily, all of which help to achieve and maintain ideal body weight and which have diabetes-fighting properties.
• Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily, and move about frequently the rest of the day.
• Not only will this plan reverse diabetes itself, but can reverse several diabetic complications, including neuropathy, eye disease and cardiovascular disease.
• I’ve had several patients who have reversed prediabetes and diabetes through these lifestyle changes. It’s gratifying to enable patients to get off their diabetes meds, including insulin (insulin requirements start dropping within hours of starting a plant-based diet).
• For a free consultation, call 379-5718.
Out medical system needs to focus less on disease management with pills and procedures and more on disease prevention and reversal through lifestyle changes. Here’s a local example of the problem: Enter Valley View Hospital through the E.R. entrance and walk towards radiology. I was just there recently, and noticed that two soda dispensers and a junk food dispenser (chips, candy) I’ve been complaining about for years are still there — everything in them promotes diabetes. This is counter to the culture of wellness all parts of our health system should be promoting.
Greg Feinsinger, M.D. is a retired family physician who has a nonprofit: Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available by appointment for free consultations (379-5718).
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