Complications of diabetes include heart disease and circulation problems; kidney disease; degeneration of the retina leading to blindness; neuropathy resulting in numbness, tingling, pain and burning in the extremities; foot ulcers leading to gangrene; and high risk of infection.
Compared to dozens of hormones that are produced when our blood sugar drops too low, the body has only two mechanisms to deal with blood sugar that goes too high. One is exercise--any muscular activity drives the sugar from the blood into the muscle cells where it is used as fuel. The second is the production of insulin. Insulin production is the body’s way of saying that the sugar level is too high, that the body is overfed with sugar. Insulin helps remove sugar from the blood into the cells where it is stored as fat. (It is interesting to note that the type of fat that is made by the body under the guidance of insulin is saturated fat.)
The second conclusion we can draw is that the cause of type II diabetes is actually quite simple. Type II diabetes occurs when for many years the consumption of foods that raise the blood sugar chronically exceeds the amount of sugar needed by the muscles for exercise. This forces the body to gradually make more and more insulin in order to bring this sugar level down. Eventually, the body cannot make enough insulin to lower the sugar level, the sugar level remains chronically high and the patient is diagnosed with diabetes.
Along the way a curious thing happens called insulin resistance. This means that as the blood sugars are chronically elevated, and the insulin levels are rising, the cells build a shield or wall around themselves to slow down this influx of excess sugar. Insulin resistance is a protective or adaptive response, it is the best the body can do to protect the cells from too much glucose. But as time goes on the sugar in the blood increases, more insulin is made by the pancreas to deal with this elevated sugar and the cells resist this sugar influx by becoming insulin resistant, in a sense by shutting the gates. This leads to the curious situation in which blood sugar levels are high but cellular sugar levels are low. The body perceives this as low blood sugar. The patient has low energy and feels hungry so he eats more, and the vicious cycle is under way.
Having a chronically elevated insulin level is detrimental for many other reasons. Not only do high insulin levels cause obesity (insulin tells your body to store fat), but they also signal that fluid should be retained, leading to edema and hypertension. Chronic high insulin provokes plaque development inside the arteries and also suppresses growth hormone needed for the regeneration of the tissues and many other physiological responses.
During the 1980s, researchers began to ask whether obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension and other common medical problems that occur together are really separate diseases, or manifestations of one common physiological defect. The evidence now points to one defect and that is hyperinsulinemia, or excessive insulin levels in the blood. Hyperinsulinemia is the physiological event that links virtually all of our degenerative diseases. It is the biochemical corollary or marker of the events described in heart disease.
The question we need to answer, then, is what causes hyperinsulinemia? In basic biochemistry we learn about the three food groups: fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Under normal circumstances it is the carbohydrates that are transformed into the sugar that goes into the blood. Fats are broken down into fatty acids and become the building blocks for hormones, prostaglandins and cell membranes. Proteins are broken down into amino acids which then are rebuilt into the various proteins in our bodies. Carbohydrates are used for one thing only and that is energy generation. This allows us to define a "balanced" diet, which is one where the energy used in movement and exercise equals the energy provided by the carbohydrates we consume.
For a person of a given size, protein and fat requirements are relatively fixed and can be controlled with the appetite. (It is actually difficult to overeat fats and proteins, as our bodies make us nauseous when we do.) However, carbohydrate intake should be intimately related to our level of activity. If we run a marathon every day, a balanced diet would probably include about 300 grams of carbohydrates per day, the amount contained in 20 potatoes or 6 brownies. If we sit on the couch all day, obviously our requirement for energy food will be less. In this case a balanced diet would include only about 65-70 grams of carbohydrate per day. Any more, and our bodies are forced to make more insulin and the whole vicious cycle begins.
The problem of diabetes can be summarized by saying that the western diet has us eating like marathon runners, when in fact most of us simply sit on the couch. When we regulate the carbohydrate intake to match our exercise level, type II diabetes cannot develop, and in fact, I have found that most cases of type II diabetes respond well to treatment when these basic principles are kept in mind. Type I diabetes responds equally well to a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet. In fact, before insulin was available, the only way to treat type I diabetes was a high-fat diet from which carbohydrate foods were completely excluded because the body does not need insulin to assimilate proteins and fats.
Unless eaten to great excess, fats do not contribute to diabetes--with one exception. Trans fatty acids in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils can cause insulin resistance. When these man-made fats get built into the cell membrane, they interfere with the insulin receptors. In theory, this means that one could develop insulin resistance without eating lots of carbohydrates. But in practice, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are always used in the very high-carbohydrate foods--french fries, cookies, crackers, donuts and margarine on bread or potatoes--that flood the bloodstream with sugar. Trans fatty acids in modern processed foods present a double whammy for which the human species has developed no defenses.
DIET FOR DIABETICS
Studies of indigenous peoples by Weston Price and many others reveal the wisdom of native diets and life-style. For not only did so-called primitive peoples follow the "perfect" anti-diabetes life-style program, but their diets incorporated specific foods only recently discovered to play an important role in the prevention and treatment of this disease. In general, indigenous peoples had a low carbohydrate intake coupled with a lot of physical activity. In fact, those peoples especially prone to diabetes today, such as northern Native Americans and Inuits, consumed virtually no carbohydrate foods. In warmer climates, where tubers and fruits were more abundant, these foods were usually fermented and consumed with adequate protein and fat. It is only in the change to Western habits that their so-called "genetic" tendency to diabetes manifests.
There are three other nutritional factors in indigenous diets that are helpful for diabetics. First, the diets were rich in trace minerals. Modern science has shown us that trace mineral deficiencies--particularly deficiencies in zinc, vanadium and chromium--inhibit insulin production and absorption. Without vanadium, sugar in the blood cannot be driven into the cells and chromium is necessary for carbohydrate metabolism and the proper functioning of the insulin receptors. Zinc is a co-factor in the production of insulin. Traditional foods were grown in mineral-rich soil, contained mineral-rich bone broth and salt, and included mineral-rich water or beverages made with such water. In the modern diet, the best sources of zinc are red meats and shell fish, particularly oysters. Extra virgin unfiltered olive oil supplies vanadium, and chromium is found in nutritional yeast, molasses and organ meats like liver.
Second, indigenous peoples ate a portion of their animal foods, such as fish, milk or meat, uncooked--either raw or fermented. This strategy conserves vitamin B6, which is easily destroyed by heat. Vitamin B6 is essential for carbohydrate metabolism; it is often the rate-limiting vitamin of the B vitamin complex because it is one of the most difficult to obtain in the diet. Indigenous peoples intuitively understood the need to eat a portion of their animal foods completely raw.
Third, traditional peoples consumed foods rich in fat-soluble vitamins, including butterfat from grass-fed animals, organ meats, shellfish, fish liver oils and the fats of certain animals like bear and pig. High levels of vitamin A are absolutely essential for the diabetic because diabetics are unable to convert the carotenes in plant foods into true vitamin A. Vitamin A and vitamin D also protect against the complications of diabetes, such as retina and kidney problems. And vitamin D is necessary for the production of insulin.
Putting all these rules together, we find that a nutrient-dense traditional diet fits all the requirements for the prevention and treatment of diabetes. The diet should include sufficient trace minerals from organic and biodynamic foods, Celtic sea salt, bone broths, shellfish, red meat, organ meats, unfiltered olive oil and nutritional yeast. High levels of vitamins A and D are essential, as are raw animal foods to provide vitamin B6.
Most importantly, diabetics must strictly limit their daily carbohydrate intake. While the optimum amount of carbohydrate foods depends somewhat on activity levels, most diabetics need to start on a 60-gram-per-day carbohydrate regimen until their sugars normalize. I recommend The Schwarzbein Principle as a guide to carbohydrate consumption. The book contains easy-to-use charts that allow you to assess carbohydrate values. During the initial period of treatment, which can take up to a year, average blood sugar levels should be determined by a blood test that measures HgbA1c, a compound that indicates average blood sugar levels over a period of about 6 weeks. Carbohydrate restriction will also help with weight loss.
For Type II diabetics, this diet should help both blood sugar levels and weight to normalize, after which the daily carbohydrate intake can be liberalized to about 72 grams per day. This level should be maintained throughout the life of the diabetic. The same approach applies to the Type I diabetic, although it may not allow him to get off insulin. However, strict carbohydrate restriction should reduce insulin requirements, help keep blood sugar stable and, most importantly, prevent the many side effects associated with diabetes.
Please note that in this approach there are no restrictions on total food intake, nor do we pay attention to the so-called glycemic index of various carbohydrate foods. Fats consumed with any carbohydrate food will lower the glycemic index. Worrying about glycemic indices adds nothing to the therapy and only increases time spent calculating food values rather than enjoying its goodness. One should eat abundantly from good fats and proteins--only carbohydrate foods need to be restricted.
With this approach, diabetics can expect greatly improved quality of life and even a complete cure.