By Dr. Mercola
Worldwide, more than 346 million people have diabetes, and deaths from this disease are expected to double by 2030, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
With type 2 diabetes now so incredibly common, some may regard a diagnosis as "no big deal" … but this disease can be devastating and it can kill you if you don't take steps to manage it quickly.
So if you're diagnosed with type 2 diabetes it's important that you take it seriously -- and that you know it can be fully reversed with lifestyle changes.
Better yet, if you have signs that you may be at risk of developing diabetes (79 million Americans have pre-diabetes, and many are unaware of it), be aware that you can absolutely stop the disease from progressing and get your body back into a state of optimal health.
What is Causing So Many People to Develop Diabetes?
Unlike type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease that shuts down your body's insulin production, type 2 diabetes, which makes up about 90 percent of cases worldwide, is directly caused by lifestyle.
Even WHO states:
"Healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes."
The reason why your diet and activity levels play such a powerful role in this disease is because of their impact on your insulin and leptin levels. You see, your blood sugar levels are not the root of the problem when it comes to type 2 diabetes, as most conventional physicians would have you believe.
As Dr. Ron Rosedale wrote in this classic article, if you follow the misguided belief that diabetes is a disease of blood sugar, you are likely destined for premature death. Taking insulin is one of the WORST things you can do, as it will actually make your insulin and leptin resistance worse over time. Dr. Rosedale, an expert on leptin physiology and one of my early mentors in this area, developed the appropriate acronym -- D.I.E. -- to illustrate what's happening in conventional diabetic treatment.
Doctor Induced Exacerbation
Yes, most doctors make diabetes worse and accelerate the death process. I've explained the mechanics of insulin resistance and the role of leptin and insulin before, but let's review it again.
- Leptin is a hormone produced in your fat cells. One of leptin's primary roles is regulating your appetite and body weight. It tells your brain when to eat, how much to eat, and most importantly, when to stop eating. And leptin tells your brain what to do with the energy it has. Leptin is largely responsible for the accuracy of insulin signaling and whether or not you become insulin resistant.
- Insulin: Sugars and grains raise your blood sugar. When this happens, insulin is released to direct the extra energy into storage. A small amount is stored as a starch called glycogen, but the majority is stored as your main energy supply—fat. Insulin's major role is not to lower your blood sugar, but rather to store the extra energy for future times of need. Insulin's effect of lowering your blood sugar is merely a "side effect" of this energy storage process.
- Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance occurs when your body becomes resistant to the hormone insulin. Any time a cell is exposed to insulin it is going to become more insulin resistant. If you eat too many sugars and grains, it provokes insulin surges and every time you provoke an insulin surge it exposes your body to more insulin. Just like walking in a dark room where it is difficult to see, after awhile your vision accommodates, your pupils dilate and you can see much better. Similarly, when your body is exposed to excess insulin soon it no longer responds to it properly and becomes insulin resistant.
In order to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes, your body needs to regain insulin sensitivity and reverse insulin resistance -- and this can be achieved very effectively with changes to your diet and activity levels.
Diabetes Complications Can be Deadly
The upward trend of diabetes around the globe is set to become one of the greatest public health concerns of all time. As reported by the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS):
"In the United States, diabetes now affects 25.8 million people of all ages, or 8.3 percent of the population, and is the 7th leading cause of death; but only 18.8 million are diagnosed, with the remaining 7 million undiagnosed."
If you're one of the millions walking around with undiagnosed diabetes, you are at great risk of diabetic complications so it is crucial to regularly screen yourself for diabetes. There are a large variety of complications you can get from diabetes and the earlier you know you have it the sooner you can take action to prevent them. As insulin resistance sets in and your blood sugar levels spike out of control, those with type 2 diabetes experience an increased risk of:
- Heart disease and stroke (which end up killing half of diabetics)
- Foot ulcers and limb amputation
- Diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness
- Kidney failure (10-20 percent of people with diabetes die of this)
- Premature death (diabetes approximately doubles your risk of death)
Top Dietary Recommendations for Avoiding Diabetes
For the last 50 years or so, Americans have followed the dietary recommendations of a high complex carbohydrate, low saturated fat diet—the exact opposite of what actually works for preventing and reversing diabetes! High complex carbohydrates include legumes, potatoes, corn, rice and grain products. Aside from legumes, you actually want to AVOID all the rest to prevent insulin resistance.
"Conventional wisdom" also states that table sugar is okay for diabetics, as long as you readjust your medications to compensate appropriately. But if you have diabetes, I recommend limiting or even eliminating sugar from your diet, especially in the form of fructose.
Fructose does not stimulate a rise in leptin, so your satiety signals are suppressed. It also raises your insulin and your triglycerides, which effectively reduces the amount of leptin crossing your blood-brain barrier. This interferes with the communication between leptin and your hypothalamus. Your brain senses starvation and prompts you to eat more.
Dr. Rosedale states:
"I have been incensed about the [conventional] medical treatment of diabetes for decades. Diabetics have been told that they can eat meals multiple times daily that turn into sugar and even sugar itself, as long as they take enough insulin to lower their blood sugar. The importance of limiting the intake of sugar and foods that turn into sugar has been almost totally ignored. There has been virtually no recognition that high levels of insulin are at least as much of an insult to a person's health as high levels of sugar."
Modifying your diet is incredibly important, as drinking just one sweetened drink a day can raise your diabetes risk by 25 percent compared to drinking one sugary drink per month, so you really need to evaluate your diet and look for hidden sources of sugar and fructose. This also means avoiding most processed foods, as they are loaded with fructose.
You may even need to avoid fruits until your diabetes is under control.
Conventional nutritionists also recommend using toxic artificial sweeteners like aspartame in lieu of sugar for diabetics, despite the evidence showing it rapidly stimulates the release of insulin and leptin (which diabetics need to avoid), and actually leads to greater weight gain than sugar ...
So what should you eat if you have diabetes, or want to prevent it? My nutrition plan explains which foods will benefit you in great detail, but to put it simply nearly all type 2 diabetics need to swap out their grains and sugars for other foods, such as healthy sources of protein or vegetable-only carbohydrates.
Further, it's wise to:
- Consume saturated fats, such as grass-fed organic meat, raw dairy products, avocados, and coconut oil. These saturated fats provide a concentrated source of energy along with the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. When you eat healthy fats as part of your meal, they slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
There are more than a dozen different types of saturated fat, but you predominantly consume only three: stearic acid, palmitic acid and lauric acid. It's already been well established that stearic acid (found in cocoa and animal fat) has no effect on your cholesterol levels at all, and actually gets converted in your liver into the monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. The other two, palmitic and lauric acid, do raise total cholesterol. However, since they raise "good" cholesterol as much or more than "bad" cholesterol, you're still actually lowering your risk of heart disease.
- Get plenty of omega-3 fats from a high quality, animal-based source such as krill oil. There is now enough research to safely say that krill oil may reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
In one study, krill oil was found to reduce fat levels in the hearts of rats by 42 percent, compared to two percent for fish oil. Similarly, krill was found to reduce fat in the liver by 60 percent, compared to 38 percent for fish oil.
The buildup of fat in your liver can lead to insulin sensitivity, metabolic syndrome and eventually full-blown type 2 diabetes. It isn't clear just how krill oil does this so effectively, but researchers hypothesize the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in krill (LCPUFAs) may reduce activity in your endocannabinoid system.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels. This isn't exactly diet related, but it's important nonetheless. Maintaining your vitamin D levels around 60-80 ng/ml, using proper sun exposure, a safe tanning bed or, as a last resort, vitamin D3 supplementation, can significantly help control your blood sugar.
You've Got to Get Moving to Prevent and Treat Diabetes
Without exercise you're unlikely to get this devastating disease under control. It works so well because it is one of the fastest and most powerful ways to lower your insulin and leptin resistance. The amazing thing about exercise is that it exerts its effects very quickly. Sure, you will definitely reap long-term benefits, and exercise is well known to impact chronic diseases, but you'll also get acute, nearly instantaneous benefits as well.
This should be excellent motivation to those of you who are procrastinating on your exercise program, as you don't have to exercise for a year or six months to experience benefits! New research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that one single session of moderate exercise can improve the way your body regulates glucose and reduce the spikes in blood sugar that occur after a meal (elevations in these spikes, known as postprandial glucose, or PPG, are associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and death).
There are three important variables in using exercise to treat and prevent diabetes:
- Length of time
Intensity is KEY for an effective exercise regimen, and the beauty of high-intensity, burst-type exercises such as Peak Fitness is that it also significantly cuts down on the amount of time you have to spend exercising. Full instructions on how to properly perform these exercises can be found in this previous article.
Peak Fitness exercises should be performed no more than three times per week, and only take a total of 20 minutes each session. Once you reach your fitness, health, and weight goals you can drop down to once or twice per week as that is all you really need, but most out-of-shape individuals will benefit from three times a week -- if you do more it is actually counterproductive as there is not enough recovery time.
Here's a summary of what a typical Peak Fitness routine might look like using a recumbent bike, elliptical machine or treadmill:
- Warm up for three minutes
- Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn't possibly go on another few seconds
- Recover for 90 seconds by continuing to exercise but at a radically reduced comfortable pace
- Repeat the high-intensity exercise phase and recovery 7 more times
- Ideally do this three times a week with 48 hours of rest in between workouts, as your body requires that much time to have the fast twitch muscle fibers recover
If you are using cardio equipment like an elliptical or bike, you don't need to reach any "magical" speed. It's highly individual, based on your current level of fitness. You know you're doing it right when you're exerting yourself to the point of typically gasping for breath after a short burst of activity. Be mindful of your current fitness level and don't overdo it when you first start out. If you are not in great shape and just starting this, you may want to start with just two or three repetitions, and work your way up to eight.
In addition to Peak Fitness, you'll want to incorporate other types of exercise to round out your regimen. A truly comprehensive exercise plan would also include strength training, core exercises, flexibility and stretching.
Drugs are Not the Answer for Type 2 Diabetes
Whereas type 1 diabetics need to inject insulin several times a day to stay alive, type 2 diabetics do NOT need drugs. In fact, taking drugs for type 2 diabetes can be far worse than the disease itself! One meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials involving more than 33,000 people showed that drug treatment to lower blood sugar is not only ineffective, it's dangerous as well.
Treatment with glucose-lowering drugs actually showed the potential to increase your risk of death from heart-related, and all other, causes.
Avandia (rosiglitazone) is the poster child for what is wrong with the drug treatment of type 2 diabetes. After hitting the market in 1999, a 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine linked it to a 43 percent increased risk of heart attack, and a 64 percent higher risk of cardiovascular death, compared to patients treated with other methods! It took nearly 10 years of the drug being on the market for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action and restrict access to this dangerous drug, whereas the European Medicines Agency banned it altogether.
And last year the New England Journal of Medicine featured not one, not two, but FOUR studies backing up the conclusion that the path of conventional medicine is leading diabetics astray, and doing far more harm than good. The studies revealed:
- Using antihypertensives to lower systolic blood pressure below a 120 mm Hg does nothing to lower a diabetic's risk of heart complications
- Diabetics receive no health benefit from adding a drug to raise HDL "good" cholesterol levels if they're already taking a statin to lower their LDL cholesterol levels
- There were no heart benefits associated with two different drugs given to lower high blood sugar levels
Remember, using drugs to help lower blood sugar is not treating the root cause of diabetes, as most of the damage is caused by elevated insulin levels. And again, elevated insulin levels can be remedied with an optimal diet and exercise program alone, if you're motivated to do so. When diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, many believe their fate has been sealed and all they can do now is "control" it. But you have to tools at your disposal to reverse this disease completely, and you can absolutely prevent it if you don't have it, by taking control of your health today.