The Basics of Diabetes

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By: Brian Bernier, ND

Diabetes is a condition that affects nearly 400 Million people worldwide, and that number is growing.

There are currently about 35 million people in USA diagnosed with diabetes. It is considered a common disease, but the reality is under proper management, diabetes should affect far fewer people in USA.

Most people think that diabetes is simply having too much blood sugar which remains in the blood after eating a sugar rich meal. This is not true! Diabetes is a name given to describe a list of metabolic disorders, of which one of the main recognizable features is high blood sugar. This detail is important because if you ever want to reverse a disease, you have to understand what is going on in order to make the necessary corrections. Medication cannot cure diabetes. In most circumstances though, you can completely reverse diabetes by making the right changes.

As with all diseases, there are certain criteria for diagnosing and giving the label of diabetes. Let us briefly look at these details.

The Unknown Realities of Diabetes:

  • For women, ovarian cysts and endometriosis are closely related to poor blood sugar dysregulation.

  • The #1 cause of blindness in the working class in the US and UK is Diabetes – known as Diabetic Retinopathy.
  • Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in USA.

  • Diabetes is a major risk factor for several diseases, diseases like heart disease, including the leading cause of death.

  • Diabetes costs healthcare over $320 BILLION annually.

  • Diabetes causes you to have longer healing time. In many patients, a diabetic will require almost twice the amount of time to heal.

  • Diabetes raises your risk of infection and causes poor skin health due to microvascular damage.

Diabetes details:

  • Type 1 Diabetes: is caused by destruction of the cells that make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas, and one of the major roles of insulin is to cause cells to pull sugar out of the blood. Type 1 diabetes used to be called childhood diabetes, but it can happen at any age, especially after certain viral infections.

    • Why are pancreas cells destroyed? Why pancreas cells are specifically attacked is not 100% clear. We have lots of viruses and bacteria that live inside us (way more than all the cells we have) and it is still being explored how these play a role in health. The old model of healthcare says that bacteria and viruses are bad, but current research shows that a healthy microbiome and virome are key components for immune health.

  • Type 2 Diabetes: This type of diabetes is the reversible kind. Type 2 diabetes is described by insulin resistance. Insulin resistance refers to cells being unable to bind to the insulin secreted into the bloodstream to take the sugar out. As this process continues, the cells of the pancreas become fatigued, because they release more and more insulin because the other cells are not responding to the insulin already released. A good analogy of this process is like adding more wood to a fire that is failing to light. If the fire has plenty of wood to burn but is not burning the wood, then adding more wood does not help and eventually you will run out of wood to put into the fire. The cells in the pancreas will add more and more insulin into your bloodstream with each meal to try and overcome the lack of response by other cells to take the sugar out. Eventually, the pancreas will become fatigued, which will cause a Type 2 diabetic to have to use artificial insulin.

  • Gestational diabetes: This is a type of diabetes that women can experience during their pregnancy. It usually resolves on its own after birth, and may be managed during the pregnancy to ensure the safety of mother and child.

Diabetes as a metabolic disorder:

Metabolism is the word used to describe the chemical reactions that take place in the body that allow for life. So, a metabolic disorder refers to dysfunction of this important process known as metabolism. By looking at diabetes as a process, we will see how it is not something that is unavoidable in the vast majority of cases. Diabetes is a process, and if you can reverse that process, then you will no longer have diabetes. Of course, this is for Diabetes Type 2 and even Gestational Diabetes. (Type 1 can be managed by a whole-foods plant-based diet, but I will not go into that at this time.)

As you noticed from reading some of the less known facts about diabetes, diabetes is related to several health conditions because it is not simply having too much sugar in the blood! Diabetes is a hormonal dysfunction and one of those SYMPTOMS is having too much sugar in the blood. This is important to understand because insulin is a hormone that has several other functions. It is not simply a food hormone!

Understanding this will help see past confusing diabetic advice that does not lead to solving the problem of diabetes. For example, it is commonly advised for diabetics to avoid carbohydrates. This is bad advice for several reasons. The most important reason it is bad advice is because while this prevents a patient from having too much sugar in their blood, it does nothing to address the need of insulin in the hormone cascade and does not result in improved insulin sensitivity. If you are allergic to peanuts, not eating peanuts does not solve why you are allergic to peanuts, nor has your peanut allergy gotten better. Furthermore, this carbohydrate advice is bad because the foods associated with the best health outcomes are carbohydrate rich foods, and all foods contain varying degrees of carbohydrates and protein. Fruits, and Vegetables are carbohydrate rich foods and eating a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet is actually one of the easiest ways to reverse not only diabetes, but heart disease as well – which will be discussed in another post.

Lastly, this advice about carbohydrates is terrible because it completely ignores the role that fat has on insulin resistance. Although seldom talked about, fat is a major component of insulin resistance. So, if a person attempts to reduce their carbohydrate intake, naturally they are going to consume more fat and protein rich foods, which only further adds to insulin resistance.

If diabetic, things you should know:

  • Fat is a major factor that causes insulin resistance. 

    • While it is common to hear avoid carbohydrates, so people avoid fruit and bread and rice, the reality is that only heavily processed and artificial foods are bad for you. Rice, potatoes, beans, and fruit can actually be eaten *almost* without any limitation if you are eating a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet. Yes, sugar, juices, donuts and other junk food make your condition worse, but that is true regardless of the medical condition you have. Our society has falsely labeled “Carbs” as the enemy, but this is because we are using language improperly. For example, a French fry is not a potato shaving. Chips are not potatoes either. Think about it. You take a potato shaving, dip it into a ton of oil, douse it with salt, and then society says that French fries are “carbs”. How?! It is way more salt and fried oil than it is potato! Same thing with chips. They are highly chemically processed with all sorts of salts and taste modifiers, then we seal it in a plastic bag/container, smothering it with all sorts of endocrine disrupting compounds, and then we say that is a “carb”!

  • Whole foods vs (partly) food.

    • This is like the label of health food. If you are eating something that is not health food, it obviously is junk food. Whole foods are foods that promote and restore health. Food-like compounds take away from health. Eating fruit has plenty of fiber and other nutrients that your body requires. Drinking apple juice from a bottle is not the same thing as having an apple. It is very different and you should avoid things like that in general, but especially when trying to improve health. For more information on a Whole Foods, Plant-based diet, see previous blog posts.

Supportive help:

Sometimes we zoom in too closely when it comes to food that we forget about the big picture, you as a whole person. Moderate exercise, detoxifying your liver, supplementation to help correct nutritional imbalances, being sound with yourself as a person, all of these are also key components in managing metabolic dysfunction.

Sources –

Kahleova H, Petersen KF, Shulman GI, Alwarith J, Rembert E, Tura A, Hill M, Holubkov R, Barnard ND. Effect of a Low-Fat Vegan Diet on Body Weight, Insulin Sensitivity, Postprandial Metabolism, and Intramyocellular and Hepatocellular Lipid Levels in Overweight Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Nov 2;3(11):e2025454. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.25454. Erratum in: JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Jan 4;4(1):e2035088. Erratum in: JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Feb 1;4(2):e210550. Erratum in: JAMA Netw Open. 2021 May 3;4(5):e2115510. PMID: 33252690; PMCID: PMC7705596.

Gemmink A, Daemen S, Brouwers B, Huntjens PR, Schaart G, Moonen-Kornips E, Jörgensen J, Hoeks J, Schrauwen P, Hesselink MKC. Dissociation of intramyocellular lipid storage and insulin resistance in trained athletes and type 2 diabetes patients; involvement of perilipin 5? J Physiol. 2018 Mar 1;596(5):857-868. doi: 10.1113/JP275182. Epub 2017 Nov 23. PMID: 29110300; PMCID: PMC5830434.

Li, Y., Xu, S., Zhang, X., Yi, Z., & Cichello, S. (2015). Skeletal intramyocellular lipid metabolism and insulin resistance. Biophysics reports1(2), 90-98.

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