Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cut Carbs to Cure Diabetes


OMG.  I just read an amazing article and have to share (thank you CrossFit Fire of the Gods for the link!).  Before we jump in, let me get a CrossFit word in and express what an awesome time I had at the Coaches Prep this past weekend.  Meeting such amazing coaches (like Paul who writes the CrossFit Fire of the Gods blog) and working with HQ's finest really was an experience I'll never forget.  There is nothing like immersion in something you love.  CrossFit and nutrition are my passions.  So on to the latter:

Men's Health: The Cure for Diabetes

Important snippets:
"My first line of treatment is to have patients remove carbohydrates from their diets," explains Dr. Vernon, a petite, energetic mother of two who also serves as the president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians. "This is often all it takes to reverse their symptoms, so that they no longer require medication."
"Which do you think people would find more practical?" asks Dr. Vernon. "Avoiding bread and sugar, or taking an insulin shot every day?" Before you answer, consider that the ADA, America's leading authority on diabetes, refuses even to pose this question to millions of diabetes sufferers, leaving them unaware that there may actually be an alternative to leading a medicated life.
"You might prefer to just take the insulin, and that's your choice," says Dr. Vernon. "But in my experience, patients are far healthier and happier without it." She pauses for a moment. "And isn't that the whole point?"
The simplicity is astounding: just cut starchy, sugary carbohydrates from your diet and CURE Type-2 Diabetes (what used to be known as "adult onset diabetes" but which now impacts children and adults alike).  NO insulin injections needed ever again?  Wow!  My own inner voice tells me to caution this one-size-fits-all approach, but the data is out there and, seriously, isn't it worth the try?

So for those of us who aren't diabetic, what can we get from this news?  Proactively, cut these carbohydrates to avoid ever developing diabetes.  If you could eliminate this threat to your health, a threat that attacks 23.6 million children and adults in the United States—7.8% of the population (back in 2007, and more today) why wouldn't you?

What are sugary, starchy carbohydrates?  Well, ALL sugars (yes, even those with deemed "healthy" or "natural" because they come from plants or bees) and grains and potatoes, which are starchy.  Good rule of thumb: stick to veggies primarily and limit high glycemic fruits (mostly tropical fruits) and high glycemic veggies (root veggies like beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes).  NOTE: this isn't a "no carb" approach.  Eat as many veggies as you want!  Seriously!  They have minimal carbohydrate that is going to elevate your blood sugar and also contain fiber, which is great for digestion and slowing down metabolism of carbohydrate into blood sugar.  The common misconception of "low carb" is "no carb," which by the size of my salads, kale chips by the pile, and cauliflower to fill my plate--I can attest is definitely NOT "no carb."

Why does cutting carbs help diabetics? 

Okay, more specifics on diabetes.  According to the article:
So what exactly is diabetes? In freshman-biology terms, it's a disease of the hormone insulin. Secreted by your pancreas, insulin moves glucose -- the form of sugar your body uses for energy -- from your bloodstream into your cells. Problems arise, however, when, often due to excessive weight gain, your cells start to become resistant to the effects of insulin. (It knocks, no one answers.) As a result, more insulin is required to dispose of the same amount of glucose. (The knock becomes a loud banging.) This condition, called insulin resistance, is the first stage of type-2 diabetes.
As insulin resistance worsens over time, your pancreas has to pump out enormous amounts of insulin to force glucose into your cells. (Hey, let's use a sledgehammer!) Eventually, your pancreas has trouble keeping up, leaving you with chronic high blood sugar, a.k.a. hyperglycemia -- the defining marker of diabetes and the root cause of the calamities that arise from it. Alas, it only gets worse from here: If the resistance continues to mount, some of the insulin-producing beta cells inside your pancreas can "burn out" and stop working altogether. (In type-1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder destroys most or all of the beta cells.) Once beta cells burn out, you're looking at a lifetime of daily insulin injections.
So Type-2 diabetics, you are in luck.  There is a cure.  What about Type-1 diabetics?  Here is Robb Wolf's take after a comment from a recovering Type-1 diabetic who switched to paleo and is now off insulin:
It is well understood that Type 1 Diabetes is a failure of the beta cells of the pancreas to produce insulin. This is generally acknowledged to be the result of an autoimmune response, usually attributed to a viral infection or some kind of trauma. What is less known is the role of grain lectins in this process. Many people benefit not only from reducing the recommended American Diabetes Association 60% carb diet (higher even than the diet that causes most of the type 2 diabetes we see) because of a more fat fueled metabolism but also, occasionally, we  see a return of normal pancreatic function with the removal of the neo-lithic foods. The inflammation and immune response that has been beating down the beta cells cease, some repair occurs and things come back to normal. This is not the norm unfortunately, but it does happen. Even without the full return of pancreatic function, the reduced carb, higher fat paleo diet greatly mitigates the accelerated aging and systemic inflammation inherent in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Need another case study of similar results?  Here's a post of a mom updating Robb on her child recovering from Type-1 Diabetes and some of his conclusions:
This REVERSAL of a life-threatening autoimmune disease is being mediated by a focus on food quality (paleo).
For the folks for whom the paleo diet does not reverse their condition (due likely to the complete destruction of ALL pancreatic beta cells) it does confer the BEST blood sugar control and best insulin management strategy of anything they have tried. This is likely due to the effects grains have on insulin signaling via leptin.
The same mechanisms which underlie the reversal of Type 1 diabetes underlie ALL autoimmune disease. In the case of these other autoimmune conditions however, we do not see the confounding issue of pancreatic dysfunction. If we can just get folks to try a paleo diet for about a month they typically see a remarkable improvement in symptoms.
Why haven't we heard this before?

If cutting carbs (particularly ubiquitous grains) is such a viable solution for diabetics, why isn't it being promoted by the American Diabetes Association and the medical community?  Well, the Men's Health article tackles some reasons which I'll let you read, but here is my take:

The world is working against this simple solution because it challenges the dominant paradigm and attacks the very foundation of our agriculture-based society.  Medical and nutrition authorities like the USDA, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and many others as well as Big Pharma and the agriculture lobby all oppose simple solutions that threaten their industry and control.  Grains provide the basis for our economy (try to find me an ingredient list or product made without a derivative of corn, just try).  Multi-million dollar pharmaceuticals provide the easiest solution: just pop a cure-all pill, albeit with horrifying side-effects, dependency, expense, and environmental impact.  It is a twisted web without our best interests in mind.  Read The Omnivores Dilemma for an enlightening experience about how deep we are entrenched in a cycle based on money, not health.  It is truly sad.

The real kicker: even that Mens Health article is from 2006 (I couldn't find the article date, but I saw a blog reviewing it from November 2006).  Four years ago.  What has changed?

YOU can make a difference!

Okay, back to the light.  YOU can use food to nourish, not harm.  Regardless of how hard it may seem, YOU can change.  And seriously, it isn't that hard.  Fighting fires is hard.  Life without a limb is hard.  Dealing with death is hard.  Living without bread, rice, and pasta is peanuts, or should I say almonds ;)  You can be happy and healthy eating very well paleo-style, as my recipes and those of the greater community can attest.  There really is more you can have than can't.  I will continue to provide supportive material and all of those bloggers and websites I recommend can help you too.  If you have a question, ask!  Bigger picture: Isn't a healthy, long life worth the effort?

Now YOU know what YOU can do to help you get healthy and stay healthy.  Knowledge is power, so what are YOU going to do about it?


  1. excellent post Kristy!

  2. Kristy, getting a little "incestuous" here, but I love this post! Great link to Robb's post also, it's always satisfying to see folks pulling together different pieces of this complex puzzle (and yes, "Omnivore's Dilemna" is a must read for those who desire to understand the world around them). I look forward to reading more! Continued success to you as your forge the future of elite fitness at CFSC! Paul

  3. Thank you both for your feedback! I appreciate the support! Hope we can help get the word out and help more people realize the benefits of a low-carb paleo approach!