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Diabetes: the 7th leading cause of death, treated with food

April 22nd, 2015
Diabetes Treatment Food

The incidence of diabetes has dramatically increased over the last 30 years. It is the 7th leading cause of death with over 75,000 deaths in 2013. Currently, 29.1 million people have diabetes, with annual health care costs over $245 billion. Medical treatments can manage the disease, but patients normally rely on these medications for life and they can have serious side effects. Recently, an extensive review in Nutrition discussed a very alternative approach: food. They suggested that a low carbohydrate diet could help diabetics gain control of the disease and become less reliant on pharmaceutical drugs.

For those of you who may not know, diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases that results in too much sugar in the blood or high blood glucose levels. This occurs when the hormone insulin, which is produced and released by the pancreas, malfunctions in some way. Normally, insulin allows the cells in your body to convert sugar or glucose (from carbohydrates in your food) into energy that is either used immediately or stored for later use in the form of fat.

There are 2 forms of diabetes: type 1 occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, while type 2 diabetes occurs when cells don’t respond properly to insulin and become insulin resistant. In either case, sugar or glucose is not metabolized properly by cells and blood glucose levels become very high. If left untreated, this can lead to serious problems such as limb amputations, heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, mental disorders, stroke and several more.

The scientific review, written by Dr. Richard D. Feinman PhD of SUNY Downstate Medical Center along with 25 other researchers and physicians, suggests the use of a low carbohydrate diet to treat diabetes. The reasoning? Well, since carbohydrates are basically complex sugars that break down into glucose, blood glucose levels rise only after the consumption of carbohydrates. So, if one reduces the amount of carbohydrates eaten regularly, blood glucose levels will not spike so high. Studies have shown that a low carbohydrate diet is actually able to regulate blood glucose levels in diabetics. Low carbohydrate diets are also extremely effective for weight loss; this is an additional benefit for diabetics, since the symptoms of type 2 diabetes improve with weight loss.

Over the last 30 years, as obesity and type 2 diabetes have risen to epidemic proportions, dietary caloric increases have been due to increased carbohydrate intake. This increase in carbohydrate intake is likely due to the war on fat that began in the 1970s with the famous Seven Country study, which correlated high fat intake with heart disease. Unfortunately, this fat got replaced with carbohydrates (many of which were highly processed) and supported increases in weight gain and insulin resistance.

Also, it turns out that the “eating fat = heart disease” theory isn’t so cut and dry. Blood saturated fatty acid (SFA) levels, which are associated with heart disease and insulin resistance, are actually controlled by dietary carbohydrates rather than dietary fats. Basically, the levels of fatty acids in your blood are not based on the amount fat you eat, but on the amount of carbohydrate you eat! Recent research has showed that restricting dietary carbohydrate reduces blood SFA levels compared to a low-fat diet, even though the amount of SFAs consumed was triple the low-fat diet group. Of course the quality of the fat you eat is an important factor to consider, but overall it is clear that restricting carbohydrates and replacing them with good quality protein and fat is very beneficial. It not only regulates blood sugar, but it can actually reduce the risk for heart disease!

Implementing a low carbohydrate dietary regiment could lower the need for medication in diabetics. Patients with type 2 diabetes were able to reduce and in some cases eliminate all medication after 3 months on a low carbohydrate diet. According to Dr. Barbara Gower, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Science at the University of Alabama Birmingham and co-author on the review, “for many people with Type 2 diabetes, low-carbohydrate diets are a real cure… They no longer need drugs. They no longer have symptoms. Their blood glucose is normal, and they generally lose weight.” The authors suggests that those with type 1 diabetes could lower their daily insulin doses, as well.

One of the main concerns or dangers with such a lifestyle change is the potential for hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels for patients on glucose-lowering medications. However, one can avoid this by reducing medication prior to beginning a low-carbohydrate diet.

Overall, a low carbohydrate diet is extremely aligned with the principles of a paleo lifestyle. Within the review article, the authors even recognize that “the use of low- carbohydrate diets is not a recent experiment and may well approximate the diet used by much of humanity for tens of thousands of years before the rise of agriculture.” It is exciting to see the scientific community supporting the idea of food and diet to treat chronic medical conditions. Hopefully, this is a trend that will continue to grow and alter how we approach medicine.

Written by Michelle S DiNicolas, PhD

PS – Learn how to incorporate a healthy, low carbohydrate diet into your life here!

Summary
Diabetes: the 7th leading cause of death, treated with food
Article Name
Diabetes: the 7th leading cause of death, treated with food
Description
Currently, 29.1 million people have diabetes, with annual health care costs over $245 billion. Medical treatments can manage the disease, but patients normally rely on these medications for life and they can have serious side effects. Recently, an extensive review in Nutrition discussed a very alternative approach: food.
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2 Responses

  1. Robert says:

    I think it’s important to be selective about reducing carb intake. Not all carbs are bad and some are much worse than others. The glycemic effect is a big help in making these choices.

  2. Many researchers feel that cinnamon might help
    maintain normal levels of blood glucose levels. Results observed in patients who have
    been administered 3 doses of cinnamon a day for 40 days included
    lowered blood triglycerides, reduced blood glucose, and decreased blood choleseterol levels.

    Cinnamon have also been given in other experiments
    alongside a placebo and patients who received the cinnamon were found to possess significantly lower amounts of glucose in the blood.

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