I will start off by saying that, yes, both prediabetes and diabetes can be reversed. But first, why should you care…
Case of the Clicking Foot Mystery
When I was being trained by a podiatrist to do diabetic foot exams a few years ago, he told us a shocking true story. It had such an impact on me that I almost always share it with patients with diabetes, especially the more non-compliant ones.
Patient: Doctor, my left foot has been clicking whenever I walk ever since the Memorial Day party I went to a month ago.
The podiatrist examines his feet and finds a bottle cap embedded in the left foot, as well as a badly infected foot that is already gangrenous. In spite of aggressive treatment, the gentleman ended up having to have a below-the-knee amputation to save his life.
This happened because diabetes causes nerve damage, thus the man could not feel the pain of stepping on a bottle cap or the pain of the infection that it caused. Similar to leprosy, due to lack of sensation, serious damage is sustained when lack of protective feeling does not warn the person of harm or injury. But that’s not the only damage that diabetes causes.
The Devastating Damages of Diabetes
Problems that diabetes can cause are numerous and can involve many body systems. It can lead to loss of limb, even loss of life. Reasons abound why you want to take drastic measures to avoid Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), or reverse it if you have already been diagnosed with it.
The chronic complications include retinopathy, which is the a leading cause of vision loss in the United States; a much higher risk for strokes & heart attacks; kidney damage; erectile dysfunction; gastrointestinal motility disorders; greater susceptibility to infections; nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, painful neuropathy, increased risk for cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Some of these complications are life-threatening, but all of them cause a lower quality of life to some degree or another.
Here are some frightening statistics regarding people with T2D: 60-70% have neuropathy, 33.4% have nephropathy, and 28.5% over the age of 40 have retinopathy (Morstein).
Dr. Mona Morstein, author of Master Your Diabetes, explains why this happens. Most cells can, at some point, block more sugar from being able to enter into them. However, there are four types that cannot regulate glucose entry: kidney cells, nerve cells, eye cells, and vascular cells. So, whatever amount of sugar is in the blood, those cells will absorb that amount. High levels of glucose in these 4 cell types are extremely damaging, so dreadful problems with nephropathy (kidney disease that may even lead to requiring dialysis), neuropathy (painful nerve disease as well as loss of sensation), retinopathy (eye disease leading to loss of vision), and cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and blockages leading to heart attacks and strokes develop.
All are of these effects of having abnormal blood sugars are undesirable, and as I said before, are compelling reasons to avoid the onset or take steps to reverse it if you already have developed Type 2 diabetes. If you are beginning to wonder if I am trying to scare you, yes I am. Sometimes fear is good to jolt us into action.
What is Diabetes
The most basic definition of diabetes is having a blood sugar level that is usually or continuously above normal. There is too much sugar (glucose) in the blood and in the cells.
It is a chronic disease that will progress unless one takes steps to halt it and reverse it.
Briefly, there are basically 2 main types of Diabetes Mellitus (DM), Type 1 and Type 2, although approximately 90-95% of the cases are Type 2. Type 1 is usually an autoimmune condition characterized by lack of insulin due to the destruction of pancreatic beta cells which produce insulin. In addition, there are subtypes and gestational diabetes, but Type 2 diabetes is the focus of this article.
Dr. Morstein reports that in the United States there are 29 million people with diabetes, and another 87 million with prediabetes. She states that, “The CDC estimates that by 2050, half of all Americans will be diabetic patients” if the trend continues. Sarah Hallberg DO puts it another way, citing a 2012 JAMA study that 52.3% adults are prediabetic or diabetic. That is pretty grim.
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes
Dr. Hallberg contends that diabetes is a hormonal disease that starts with insulin resistance. As people gradually become more insulin resistant, they become more carbohydrate intolerant. She describes insulin resistance as being pre-pre-Type 2 diabetes, and states that Type 2 diabetes develops when you consume more carbohydrates than your body can tolerate.
Fung points out that insulin resistance typically occurs about 13 years before one develops diabetes.
So, the major players in diabetes are insulin and glucose. Insulin, the hormone secreted by the beta cells in the pancreas, escorts the glucose from your blood into cells where it can be used for energy. The main problem occurs when insulin tries to move glucose into cells that are already too full of glucose and the cells are resistant to let in more. This is insulin resistance. The body then makes more insulin to help cram more glucose into the cells because the body is trying to protectively get the sugar out of the blood. At some point no more sugar can be stuffed in, so the sugar level in the blood rises. Hello, high blood sugars.
Factors That Increase the Risk for Diabetes
Some experts maintain that no one thing causes Type 2 Diabetes. Here are 11 things that can put you at a greater risk:
- Genetic disposition – According to Dr. Morstein, if one parent has diabetes his/her child has a 40% risk of developing it. The risk increases to 70% if both parents have T2D.
- Sedentary lifestyle, which not only leads to obesity, but exercise has the positive effect of increasing insulin sensitivity, and burns off excess glucose.
- Lack of sleep – hormones that regulate our cravings and appetites are disrupted.
- Eating too much and too often – Eating too much not only leads to obesity, but it also strains the delicate hormonal system. Plus, every time we snack it causes insulin to be released, the fat storage hormone that is ready to escort extra calories right into fat cells (Fung).
- Visceral fat (aka abdominal obesity)- Morstein warns that “abdominal obesity causes insulin resistance, which causes more abdominal obesity”, essentially a vicious cycle. She also goes on to say that insulin resistance will be a problem until the abdominal fat has been lost.
- Hormones imbalances such as thyroid problems, cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone can cause insulin resistance and potentiate obesity (Morstein).
- Bad diet – Processed foods, poor quality foods like conventionally raised meat, refined carbohydrates like high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar can contribute to the risk for T2D because of the toxins, the empty calories, the nutrient deficiencies, the inflammation it causes, and much more.
- Gut dysbiosis – Morstein states that, “obese people have been found to have different proportions of bacteria in their intestines than lean people”, and obesity is a risk factor.
- Environmental toxins – Heavy metals can induce insulin resistance. In addition, many other toxins such as phthalates, PCB’s, bisphenol A stored in out fat increase the risk for T2D, obesity, and insulin resistance (Morstein).
- Stress – In his book Sugar Nation, Jeff O’Connell addresses the link between stress and diabetes. When stress triggers the release of cortisol, the liver responds by releasing glucose. Morstein agrees with this stating, “Research has shown that stress may lead to developing diabetes” and “can aggravate diabetes control”. Cortisol not only signals the liver to secrete glucose, it also signals the liver to store fat in the visceral (abdomen) fat cells, encourages the growth of fat cells, interferes with sleep, aggravates insulin resistance, can be inflammatory, interferes with thyroid hormone production, and can cause emotional eating.
- Obesity–Although Type 2 diabetes has a strong genetic influence, it is also associated with metabolic abnormalities known as metabolic syndrome or syndrome X. According to Grossman & Porth 80-90% of the people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are overweight. It is interesting to note, not all are overweight. In fact, O’Connell, was tall and lean when he was diagnosed with prediabetes. He called himself an example of unhealthy, thin person who ate mostly junk food. So, there is such a thing as a skinny Type 2 diabetic.
How Diabetes is Diagnosed
The current diagnostic tool that I see being used most often in the clinic where I work is the hemoglobin A1C blood test. This test measures how much glucose is roaming around in the blood during about a 3 month period because glucose attaches to hemoglobin molecules, which is part of the red blood cell. This process is called glycation and is irreversible. So this blood test is able to give the clinician a good picture of the average blood sugar levels in an individual over the last few months.
However, Ha1C could be falsely elevated due to chronic alcohol use, anemia, chronic aspirin or opioid use, and a few other things. Also, since Ha1C is more of an average of blood sugars during a particular period, one who has great blood sugar fluctuations might not have an Ha1C that accurately reflects blood sugar levels.
Ha1C levels: Normal < 5.7%, Prediabetes 5.7% – 6.4%, and Diabetes > 6.5%. One does not need to be fasting for this blood test.
Another way diabetes is diagnosed: Fasting blood sugar levels of 126 mg/dL or above.
Pharmaceutical Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes
There are basically two types of medications to treat T2D, oral and injectables. Some examples of oral medications are biguanides like metformin and sulfonylureas such as glipizide, glyburide, and glimeride. Sulfonylureas should be used with extra caution due to side effects like pancreatic burnout, weight gain, and hypoglycemia (Morstein). The injectables are the various insulins.
Dr. Sarah Hallberg’s goal is to get all of her Type 2 diabetic patients off all diabetic medications with the exception of metformin. Metformin can have other benefits, so she lets each patient make their own decision after discussing the pros and cons. O’Connell reports Dr. Barry Braun at University of Massachusetts performed a study on metformin and exercise in combination and found that the effects were additive, like “1 + 1 = 3”.
However, Dr. Fung, a nephrologist who works with many diabetics, states emphatically that, “Drugs won’t cure a dietary disease” and says elsewhere, “Virtually all conventionally treated patients get worse”.
What Some Experts Are Saying
Dr. Fung, a nephrologist with extensive diabetes expertise, contends that refined carbohydrates and sugar consumption must be reduced in order to lower insulin levels which are driving diabetes. In fact, he has 4 food rules that are needed to reach the objectives of reducing insulin and blood sugar levels, thereby reversing diabetes and prediabetes.
1) Avoid any added sugar, especially fructose found in table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. 2) Reduce or avoid other refined carbohydrates and increase good fats that are not industrially processed. Sugar causes the greatest increase of insulin levels, while fat, is the only macronutrient that does not significantly raise insulin or blood sugar levels. Protein intake should be moderate. 3) Eat real food and avoid processed foods. 4) Intermittent fasting. Dr. Fung contends that sometimes following the first three rules is not enough to reverse severe diabetes and that some sort of fasting may need to be added. Intermittent fasting burns through sugar and fat stores.
Dr. Hallberg is also an expert in reversing diabetes. She has 5 Rules for Eating: 1) Only eat food you like. 2) Eat real food, not processed. 3) Don’t eat when you are not hungry. 4) No “GPS, grains, potatoes, or sugar”. And for the metabolically impaired, no beans either. 5) Never buy something that states fat-free, low-fat, or light.
Incredibly, the ADA guidelines will not give a specific carbohydrate intake recommendation, rather they give diet suggestions that end up being 40-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal (Hallberg). But Hallberg insists this is folly since diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate toxicity. It is a no-brainer to her that one needs to drastically reduce or omit what is making one sick.
Contrary to what is claimed by Fork Over Knives proponents, the news, and the American Diabetes Association (ADA), there is an abundance of studies and evidence that shows low carbohydrate/high fat (LCHF) eating, also known as a ketogenic diet, is great at reversing high blood sugars and high insulin levels. It will also improve lipids and inflammation markers. In addition, the amount of medications to manage diabetes also decreased significantly and rapidly, many being able to go completely off of these medications. Yet, in spite of this, the ADA (Evert & Franz, 2017) advises, “In general, a low-saturated fat eating plan including a moderate amount of carbohydrate-primarily from fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods-results in improved metabolic outcomes”.
Yeah, But… How Does One REALLY Do It
Okay, I submit that reversing diabetes according to Fung and Hallberg is simple, but will admit also that it is not easy. You have to change the way you have been eating. Years of habits need to be replaced. But if you count the cost of having Type 2 diabetes, it is worth all of the time, energy, and thought that you put into reversing it.
You will learn how to like new foods and make changes over time. You will have more energy, gain strength, lose weight if you need to, and be able to take hold of your world. Better health awaits you.
You have been armed with information. Now all you have to do is put it together, which I will help you do. Keep reading.
How To Naturally Treat and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes for Good
In order for me to make changes I always need a concise and simple plan. Anything more complicated will make me feel like my brain will explode. I get overwhelmed and am stuck in a state of inertia. So, here is my boiled down version after doing weeks of research.
- Eat low carb. You have to lower your total carbohydrate intake daily to less than 30-50 grams. When you eat less carbs your body produces less insulin, so fat stores are unlocked. Now your body can burn fat stores and deplete the surplus glucose in your cells. As Dr. Hallberg stated above, No “GPS, grains, potatoes, or sugar”, and no beans.
- Eat adequate protein, but no more than 1.5g/kg of your ideal body weight. Your body will convert excess protein into glucose. To find out the right amount of protein for you, here is how the formula works: Let’s say your ideal body weight is 150 lbs. Divide that by 2.2 to obtain your weight in kilograms (kg), which would be 68.18 kg in this case. Then multiply that by 1.5 to get the total amount of grams that you should be eating maximum daily. If your ideal weight is 150 lbs your max protein intake should be 102 grams.
- Eat a lot of high quality fat. Fat does not cause an insulin response. But only eat enough to feel satiated. You never want to overeat at any one meal.
- Eliminate snacks. Every time you eat your body produces insulin. And insulin is the fat storage hormone. So limit eating to 2-3 times a day.
- Exercise. Start with whatever activity level you at now and gradually increase it. Exercise helps empty out the fat stores.
There is a lot more that can be said here, and I will, in future articles. I just want to keep this short and sweet, and as basic as I can.
Need Some Inspiration?
To increase your enthusiasm and instill more hope you can read about Harry Olson’s story. Harry, a fellow Primal Health Coach, was able to reverse his Type 2 diabetes and lose a ton of weight Or Frania’s success story, my first client. She lowered her hemoglobin A1C from over 10 to 5.2 in only a few months. The stories abound!
I am hoping you will become a success story!
It is highly likely that either you or a loved one has prediabetes or diabetes.
I emphatically believe that it is possible to halt the progression, and in most cases, reverse diabetes, and certainly prediabetes. I have seen both been done a number of times. I hope I have been able to distill and make this important information very understandable. It can be a matter of life and death.
I want you to feel hopeful, and that this is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. It is well within your grasp or your loved one’s grasp.
I have experience as an RN and a health coach helping people successfully reduce their blood sugars and Ha1c levels, and eliminate the need for oral diabetes medications and insulin. And it typically happens in a very short period of time. Research supports that a low carbohydrate/high fat diet combined with intermittent fasting is the ticket to get off the weight loss/weight gain roller coaster ride. I can also help in making other lifestyle changes with exercise, stress, and sleep. Contact me if you would like to schedule a free 20-minute consultation to explore working together.
You might be interested in reading these other articles I have written:
As you read above, toxins are one of the risk factors that can lead to diabetes. I am a consultant for Beautycounter if you would like to learn more about wonderfully crafted skin care products and make-up that are safe and high quality. Beautycounter’s tagline is, “Beauty should be good for you”, and they prohibit the use of over 1500 harmful or questionable ingredients commonly found in other products. The more I use their products, the more enthused I become because they perform so well. I invite you to check out Beautycounter here.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be medical advice. The information is meant to educate and inspire people that diabetes does not need to be a hopeless, irreversible condition. I recommend that you try any of the recommendations only after being evaluated by your health care provider, and with his blessing. And of course, if you are experience any alarming signs or symptoms, obtain medical treatment right away.
Evert, A, & Franz, M. (2017). American Diabetes Association Guide to Nutrition Therapy for Diabetes.
Fung, J. (2018). The Diabetes Code. Van Couver, Canada: Greystone Books Ltd.
Fung, J. Dietary Fat and Hyperinsulinemia. https://idmprogram.com/dietary-fat-hyperinsulinemia/
Grossman, S., & Porth, C. M. (2013) Porth’s pathophysiology: Concepts of altered health states (9th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott-Raven Publishers.
Hallberg, Sarah. (2017). Reversing diabetes 101 (Blog post) .https://blog.virtahealth.com/reversing-diabetes-101-truth-about-carbs-and-blood-sugar/?_ga=2.71691091.1926499209.1556575736-30155101.1556575736
Hallberg, Sarah. Reversing Type 2 diabetes starts with ignoring the guidelines. TEDx Talks, YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=da1vvigy5tQ
Hyman, M. (n.d.). 7 steps to reverse obesity and diabetes. https://drhyman.com/blog/2014/12/18/7-ways-reverse-obesity-diabetes/
Lewis, S., Heitkemper, M., & Dirksen, S. (2004). Medical-surgical nursing: assessment and management of clinical problems. (6th ed.) St. Louis, MO: Mosby, Inc.
Morstein, M. (2017). Master Your Diabetes. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
O’Connell, J. (2011). Sugar Nation. New York, NY: Hyperion.
Radin M. S. (2013). Pitfalls in hemoglobin A1c measurement: when results may be misleading. Journal of general internal medicine, 29(2), 388–394. doi:10.1007/s11606-013-2595-x