Do you have type 2 diabetes? If so, you’ve probably been told three “facts”:
- you have an incurable disease
- you need to be treated with medications to keep your blood sugar under control
- you need to avoid sugar and starch and eat more protein and fat
Before we get into whether these facts are in fact true, let me pose a more general question: how is this theory of diabetes working out for us?
Are we taking diabetics and improving their health outcomes? Or is the progression of diabetes an all but inevitable decline into worse and worse symptoms, more and more medication, and greater and greater impairment leading to an early death?
The answer, clearly, is that diabetics who are treated by Western medicine get worse, not better, over time. What’s less obvious is that the treatments themselves contribute about as much to declining health as the diabetes itself.
Once you’re diagnosed in the current system, you’re trapped in a place where there is no possibility of restored health, of improved function, of a cure.
I’d like to offer a more hopeful and empowering path. Not disease management, but reversal.
Not dependence on toxic pharmaceuticals, but independence from medicine interventions of any kind.
If that sounds good, keep reading. Because we have to debunk those three “facts” if you’re going to get well.
Myth #1: Type 2 diabetes is an uncurable disease
This myth is half true. If you live in the Western world and consume a high fat, high protein Western diet, then it sort of makes sense to view type 2 diabetes as a disease that exists in your body.
The problem is the hidden assumption that the only place it exists is in your body.
That’s like saying you have a disease that causes frequent nosebleeds when what’s happening is you’ve joined a boxing gym. Your “disease” in that case is simply the body’s natural response to a trauma to the blood vessels inside your nose.
And type 2 diabetes is the body’s natural response to a very unnatural diet.
If you’re so committed to this unnatural and unhealthy diet that you are unwilling to change it, then yes, you have a disease.
But be aware that this is a disease that would never have developed in a hunter-gatherer or horticultural society.
Think of diabetes as an adaptation: the body’s way of dealing with the slow-motion trauma of an unnaturally rich diet.
If you were a bear preparing for hibernation, you’d want to fatten up, right? So you could make it through the long, cold winter.
But when your body reached the appropriate level of fat, you wouldn’t want to keep gaining weight. So your fat-laden cells would now interfere with insulin, the hormone that shuttles calories from the bloodstream into the cells.
That’s why obesity is one of the top risk factors for type 2 diabetes – the fat inside our cells makes those cells resistant to insulin, which prevents the sugars in our blood from leaving the bloodstream.
And that’s why high blood sugar(hyperglycemia) is the traditional way to diagnose diabetes. (The scientific name, diabetes mellitus, means “sweetness passing through,” since sugary urine was one of the first signs.)
But Western medicine, as it often does, focuses treatment on this symptom rather than the cause.
Which brings us to…
Myth #2: You need medications to control your blood sugar levels
Persistent high blood sugar is harmful over the long term. It stresses the heart, damages the eyes and kidneys, and contributes to high blood pressure. Based on those facts, it would seem obvious that lowering blood sugar through medication is the way to do.
But this is a bad idea, for three reasons.
First, as we’ve seen, high blood sugar is a result of, not a cause, of diabetes. So artificially lowering blood sugar with drugs does nothing to address the root cause: the fact that the body’s cells are so gunked up that they cannot let insulin do its job.
When you treat a symptom and ignore the underlying condition, here’s what happens: the underlying condition continues to progress and worsen. That’s why diabetics – even heavily medicated diabetics – die so much earlier than those without diabetes.
Second, our bodies adapt to medications over time, so we need increasingly higher and higher doses and stronger and stronger meds as the disease progresses. When we get to the stage where we need to inject insulin because the pancreas, overworked for decades, has given out, the cells are still insulin resistant. So we’ll need ever increasing doses to get the same results.
Third, studies have shown that management of blood sugar in diabetics is harmful. Diabetics who monitor their blood glucose and keep levels low through meds die younger than those who do not.
Here’s one reason why. As we’ve seen, hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar) is dangerous over the long term. But hypoglycemia (blood sugar that’s too low) is life-threatening in the moment.
Our brains cannot function without glucose any more than the can without oxygen. Lowering blood glucose too much or too rapidly is like being strangled. We can go into coma and die from hypoglycemia.
According to theNNT.com, an evidence-based medicine summary website, tight glycemic control of diabetes (keeping A1C levels between 6.5-7, the protocol recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA)) harms far more people than it helps.
Here’s a screen shot of the benefit/harm outcomes, based on multiple studies:
While only 1 out of every 250 diabetics benefited by not requiring a limb amputation, 1 out of 6 diabetes were hospitalized due to life-threatening hypoglycemia. And that’s just for five years. Over 10 years, more than 1 out of every 3 diabetics following tight glycemic control would come close to death due to hypoglycemia.
According to an article by John McDougall, MD, “In a major study, a popular diabetic medication, Avandia (rosiglitazone), given at a dosage of 4 mg twice daily, on average, decreased hemoglobin A1c levels by 1.5 percentage points, reduced fasting plasma sugar by 76 mg/dL (4.22 mmol/L), and reduced insulin resistance by 25%. These improved numbers should have meant healthier patients, but they didn't. On May 21, 2007 the New York Times reported, patients taking Avandia had 66 percent more heart attacks, 39 percent more strokes and 20 percent more deaths from cardiovascular-related problems.”
So if drugs aren’t the answer, then what is? Diet?
Diabetics know they need to be strict with their diets to avoid sugar spikes. Unfortunately, the advice they get from doctors and from the ADA about what to eat also focuses on managing the symptom of high blood sugar rather than eliminating the cause.
Myth #3: diabetics need to avoid sugar and starch and eat more protein and fat
Because high blood sugar is a symptom of diabetes, we mistakenly think of it as the cause. So our whole dietary strategy is to eat to avoid “sugar spikes.”
But science has known for a long time that fat and protein, not sugar and starch, cause type 2 diabetes. In a 1927 study, Dr Shirley Sweeney fed study participants first a diet high in sugar, then one high in fat. Their blood sugar spiked on fat, not sugar. In fact, they all became diabetic on the high fat diet.
In 1940, P.H. Himsworth fed study participants either a high carb or high fat diet, and found that fat, not sugar, paralyzes insulin.
Many other studies have shown the same thing. And many studies have demonstrated that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet can actually reverse type 2 diabetes.
I need to end this article with a very important set of caveats. First, there’s the legal disclaimer: do not take anything in this article as medical advice. It's all for informational purposes only. Please check with your healthcare professional before changing your diet or your medications.
Second, there’s the real-life reiteration and emphasis on that last bit: If you currently have type 2 diabetes, DO NOT change your diet or medications unless you find a doctor willing to adjust your medications on a day by day basis for the first couple of weeks.
If you improve your diet and keep taking your metformin, sulfonylureas, and insulin, you’re in great danger of hypoglycemic episodes. So it’s better to err on the side of less medication than more as you make this change, but only do it under medical supervision.
Take this article to your doctor and ask if they are willing to work with you to reverse your type 2 diabetes. If they want more information and are unwilling to do their own research, I’m available to put together summaries of clinical trials that you can share with them. Send me an email and we’ll get started.
If your doctor is unwilling to change their protocol based on evidence, get another doctor. What they don’t know about diabetes is probably a drop in the bucket compared to what they don’t know about other important health issues.
Even if you get your doctor on board, it’s crucial to educate yourself if you have type 2 diabetes. Otherwise, you’ll always be at the mercy of misguided health professionals and professional marketers.
Plus, nobody can eat their way out of your diabetes except you. Nobody can exercise their way to glycemic control except you. So you’re the one who has to learn the skills and science that gives you control over your own health destiny.
Starting on January 19, 2016, I’m offering in partnership with Wholistic Health Studio, a 3-part class on diabetes. For three consecutive Tuesdays, from [7:40]-[9:10]pm, we’ll explore the science and skills that will empower you to reverse type 2 diabetes.
We’ll cover, in-depth, some of the science shared in this article:
- The actual cause of type 2 diabetes (it’s not sugar)
- How drugs work to suppress symptoms while allowing the disease to progress
- What diet and lifestyle changes can reverse many cases of diabetes in six months
Plus, we’ll get hands-on to give you important skills:
- How to work with your doctor to monitor your medications while you transition out of diabetes
- Skills for shopping, storing, and preparing a delicious “anti-diabetes” diet
To find out more and register, go here: TBWell.com/diabetes.