Is Diabetes really Reversible?
If the root cause of Type 2 Diabetes is tackled rather than the symptoms, can this disease be reversed?
When my mother, aged 68 had advanced symptoms of type 2 diabetes (her kidneys were operating at less than 30% and she had developed nerve damage), I observed the number of pills that she was taking for the symptoms of this modern-day disease. These pills included drugs for blood sugar control, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – just to name a few. In my quest to help her, I started to research more about Diabetes.
With the vast amount of information out there on the Web, it became evident that we are not addressing the cause of the disease, but only treating the symptoms with drugs that carry the risk of a huge number of potential side-effects. Rather than “pill-popping”, wouldn’t it be more beneficial if we dealt with the cause and therefore attempt to reverse the disease? The rhetorical answer is an empathic “YES” and this article summarizes my findings.
Diabetes – a Worldwide Epidemic
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), of the total 7.3 billion population in 2014, an estimated 9% the adults had diabetes, of which 90% had type 2 diabetes and the numbers are growing. The notable aspect of the disease is that there is a clear correlation between the spread of the “western” diet (refined and fast foods) and the rise of diabetes. Even in places such as Japan and China, obesity, which was once almost unheard of, is becoming more prevalent as the dietary habits have changed. As a result of this epidemic, the WHO figures indicate that 1.5 million deaths are directly attributed to diabetes each year.
Forms of Diabetes
There are two main forms of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. The first type is where the pancreas produces very little or none of the hormone, insulin. The latter is when insulin is either not being produced in the quantity required or that “insulin resistance” impairs the effectiveness of the hormone in the absorption process of glucose into the cells of muscles. There is one further diabetes condition that can occur in women during pregnancy called “Gestational Diabetes” which can lead to complications during birth and potentially progress to type 2 for the mother. This article is aimed at type 2 diabetes sufferers.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Sufferers from Diabetes have an increased risk of developing a number of serious health issues from high blood glucose levels which can lead to diseases affecting the major parts of the body including the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. If no action is taken, the highly inevitable results are likely to be cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure and possible amputation of the limbs.
The “Western Diet” and rise of Obesity
With the advanced global reach of the fast food chains such as McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and others, the vast consumption of such junk food by a worldwide population is only the beginning of the rise of diabetes. Add to this the sugar-laden soft drinks, increased portion sizes and frequency of consumption whilst at the same time, reduction in the amount physical exercise expended by most people and you have a toxic combination that fuels the onset of diabetes quicker than anyone could have imagined. However, it doesn’t stop there. The additional fuel to the diabetes flame is the vast range of refined foods that are available in abundance in our supermarkets – which contain sugar, salt, preservatives and other undesirable elements that are harmful to our general health and will not help diabetes sufferers in particular. There is also the issue of the consumption of meat, which is not as healthy for the body as may be portrayed by the meat producers. According to recent NCC statistics, in the US, the average American consumed a staggering 202 lbs of meat in 2014.
How the Medical Profession is is handling the Diabetic Situation
Diabetes, once diagnosed by your doctor will lead to one of two courses of action; control by diet or control by drugs. The first option is the preferred route - but it requires a fundamental understanding of nutrition; which foods are “in” or “out”; the impact on the blood glucose levels from the food you can eat; and the discipline of regularly monitoring blood sugar levels. The second option, control by drugs, is usually given to diabetics where the blood sugar is already elevated to a high level when diagnosed or when option one has failed. Unfortunately, control by drugs only treats blood sugar levels, which is a symptom and the drugs prescribed are not a cure for diabetes itself. If nutritional education along with an exercise plan is not actively pursued, the only winners are the drug companies.
Dietary Control of Diabetes
To combat diabetes, what should be our diet? Unfortunately, the word “diet” is often misused and associated with fad or fashionable diets such as Atkins, Paleo, South Beach, Weightwatchers, Lighterlife, Volumetrics etc. Most of the diet plans have no proven scientific substance and as you will find, the information is often contradictory or unsubstantiated, yet a number of the diets have been devised by doctors. It is little wonder that we are all left confused! Furthermore, many of these diets may provide short-term results but are usually not sustainable for the long term. So, what should we eat (or not eat) and how do we get to the science that explains why? Having approached this article from the perspective of diabetes and possible cure, I believe I found an answer (but I am sure there are others) that provided the science and rationale that I had been seeking. This came from Dr Neil Barnard, Dr Joel Fuhrman, Dr John McDougall, Dr Michael Klaper are just a few amongst may other practitioners who have engaged the issue of “proper” nutrition that would impact the likes of diabetes head-on with a common sense approach underpinned by scientific research and positive results achieved. In essence, they all promote natural, unprocessed, unrefined, foods and cutting out oils, meats and dairy products. This is essentially a healthy vegan diet (I emphasize “healthy” since a vegan can eat just as unhealthily as anyone else if they regularly devour greasy veggie burgers with French fries and sugar-laden fizzy drinks!). Barnard and McDougall’s approach is not necessarily about lowering carbs (often deemed any “enemy” by some dietitians), but a balance of grains, legumes and vegetables that provide the proteins, carbs and fats in their natural form. I would highly recommend watching the very informative video below to get further facts.
Exercise and Diabetes
Dietary control is only one aspect in combating Diabetes, but physical exercise is equally of importance. Aerobic exercise enables the body to use insulin more effectively, whilst also lowering blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A regular exercise regime of intensity commensurate with your age and current condition is a necessary ingredient to the diabetes reversal plan. The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise at least 5 days per week. When a dietary control of diabetes is adopted, the risk of hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar) during sporting activities is practically eliminated - which could occur if diabetic drugs were being used, causing a real issue in distance running or cycling and can be fatal.
So is type 2 Diabetes Reversible?
Unfortunately, my mother’s condition had gone too far to attempt any radical change safely. However, I recommended the principles of my research to one of my family members, who had type 2 diabetes, who applied the dietary principles from understanding the approach of the aforementioned doctors as well as working on a regular exercise programme. Within a few weeks he saw real results in energy levels and within 8 weeks, his blood sugar readings had returned within the normal range. Further medical laboratory tests also showed that his cholesterol levels had also improved significantly along with reduction in blood pressure readings. He is absolutely delighted with the results – and all without popping a single pill!
Barnard, McDougall et al cite numerous examples of their patients experiencing similar and very positive results when committed to the cause. To date, I have recommended the same approach to numerous friends, family and colleagues – all taking positive steps on the journey to improve their health.
So, as to the question of diabetes being reversible - the answer appears to be an empathic “yes”. However, it does require an understanding about the root cause of this chronic killer-disease and not to succumb to treating the symptoms by popping pills. It takes further commitment to implement the lifestyle changes required to achieve the results - and family members need to be involved to be supportive of the changes. If you do aim to change your lifestyle, particularly if you are already on diabetes related drugs, please do ensure to consult your physician before stopping your current medication or altering your diet. On my part, my research has led me to become far more conscious about the food I buy and eat along with a better insight and awareness as to how various foods and drinks impact my body. As a result, with my wife also fully participating, we have changed our lifestyle of eating habits along with increased regular exercise – and we feel enormously better and energized as a result!
Zag Asghar, Dubai UAE