Food as Medicine Part. 3, Diabetes

Welcome back to my weekly blog post! Today, I am talking especially about diabetes and how to prevent or reverse it. Please enjoy reading:

Next on the dreaded list is diabetes and vision loss, which go together, since diabetes is the leading cause of preventable middle-aged blindness. Even with intensive diabetes treatment—at least three insulin injections a day with the best modern technology, like implantable insulin pumps—the best we can offer is usually just a slowing down of the progression of the disease. So, we can slow down your blindness, but a half-century ago, Kempner at Duke proved you could reverse it with an ultra-strict plant-based diet of mostly rice and fruit. 44 consecutive patients with diabetic retinopathy, and in 30% of the cases, their eyes improved. That’s not supposed to happen. Diabetic retinopathy had been considered a sign of irreversible damage. What does this mean in real life? Going from being unable to even read headlines to normal vision.

How do we treat diabetic retinopathy these days? With steroids and other drugs injected straight into the eyeball. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always pan-retinal laser photocoagulation, in which laser burns are placed over nearly the entire retina. Surgeons literally burn out the back of your eyeball. Why would they do that? The theory is that by killing off most of the retina, the little pieces you leave behind may get more of the remaining blood flow.

The most efficient way to avoid diabetic complications is to eliminate the diabetes in the first place, and this is often feasible with a healthy enough diet.

A plant-based diet beat out the conventional American Diabetes Association diet in a head-to-head randomized controlled clinical trial, without restricting portions; no calorie or carb counting. A review of all such studies found that those following plant-based diets experience better improvements compared to those following diets that include animal products—but this is nothing new.

The successful treatment of type 2 diabetes with a plant-based diet was demonstrated back in the 1930s, showing that a diet centered around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans was more effective in controlling diabetes than any other diet.

Randomized controlled trial: after five years, no big change in the control group, but in the plant-based group, insulin needs were cut in half, and a quarter ended up off of insulin altogether. Now, this was a low-calorie diet, though; maybe their diabetes just got better because they lost weight?

To tease that out, what we would need is a study where they switch people to a healthy diet, but force them to eat so much food that they’d actually maintain their weight. Then, we could see if a plant-based diet had benefits independent of all the weight loss. We’d have to wait 44 years, but here it is. Subjects were weighed every day, and if they started losing weight, they were made to eat more food. In fact, so much food some of the participants had trouble eating it all, but they eventually adapted; so, there were no significant alterations in body weight despite restricting meat, dairy, eggs, and junk.

So, with zero weight loss, did a plant-based diet still help? Here are the before-and-after insulin requirements of the 20 people they put on the diet: The overall insulin requirements were cut about 60%, and half were able to get off insulin altogether, despite no change in weight. How many years did this take? Was it five years like the other study? No, 16 days.

So, we’re talking diabetics who’ve had diabetes as long as 20 years, injecting 20 units of insulin a day and then, as few as 13 days later, they’re off insulin altogether, thanks to less than two weeks on a plant-based diet. Diabetes for 20 years, then off all insulin in less than 2 weeks. Here’s patient 15: 32 units of insulin on the control diet and then 18 days later on none. Lower blood sugars on 32 units less insulin; that’s the power of plants.

And as a bonus, their cholesterol dropped like a rock—in 16 days to under 150.  Just like moderate changes in diet usually result in only modest reductions in cholesterol,  asking people with diabetes to make moderate changes often achieves equally moderate results.  Which is one possible reason why most end up on drugs, injections, or both.

Everything in moderation may be a truer statement than people realize. Moderate changes in diet can leave one with moderate blindness, moderate kidney failure, and moderate amputations—maybe just a few toes. Moderation in all things is not necessarily a good thing.

The only thing better than reversing diabetes is to not get it in the first place. That study that purported to show that diets high in meat, eggs, and dairy could be as harmful to health as smoking supposedly suggested that people under 65 who eat lots of meat, eggs, and dairy are four times as likely to die from cancer or diabetes. But if you look at the actual study, you’ll see that’s not true. Those eating a lot of animal protein didn’t have just four times more risk of dying from diabetes, they had 73 times higher risk of dying from diabetes.

As one eats more and more plant-based, there appears to be a stepwise drop in the rate of diabetes down to a 78% lower prevalence among those eating strictly plant-based. Protection building incrementally as one moved from eating meat daily, to less than daily, to just fish, to no meat, and then, to no eggs and dairy either. A similar pattern was found for the leading cause of vision loss among the elderly—cataracts. This suggests that it’s not all or nothing; any steps we can make towards eating healthier may accrue benefits.

But why? Why is total meat consumption associated with higher risk for diabetes, and especially processed meat, particularly poultry?

Well, there’s a whole list of potential culprits in meat. Yes, it may be the animal protein, but maybe it’s the animal fat; maybe it’s the cholesterol; maybe it’s the iron leading to free radical formation, which could lead to chronic inflammation. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are another problem. They promote oxidative stress and inflammation, and food analyses show that the highest levels of these so-called glycotoxins are found in meat. Here are the 15 most glycotoxin contaminated food sources: chicken, pork, pork, chicken, chicken, beef, chicken, chicken, beef, chicken, turkey, chicken, fish, beef, and… McNuggets.

Though other foods from animal sources can also harbor these pro-oxidant chemicals.  In this study, they fed diabetics foods packed with glycotoxins, like chicken, fish, and eggs, and their inflammatory markers shot up, like tumor necrosis factor and C-reactive protein. Thus, in diabetics, dietary AGEs promote inflammatory mediators, leading to tissue injury.

The good news is that restricting these kinds of foods may suppress these inflammatory effects. So these glycotoxins may be a missing link between the increased consumption of animal fat and meats and the subsequent development of type 2 diabetes in the first place.

As a Health Coach, I am mentoring my clients to create and maintain long-term lifestyle changes to enhance their overall quality of life. In addition to supporting clients with specific goals, I empower my clients to choose health-promoting behaviors that work for them. I raise awareness and offer support as clients move in their own bio-individual ways toward the greater health they want for themselves. My coaching hopefully leads to long-term behavior change, but only because I help my clients do the meaningful work that forms a strong foundation.

How can I help you? Are there any changes you wish for yourself? Is your health the best it could be? You can book your free consultation with me now: