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By Kathy Freston, Author, Health and Wellness Expert
I’ve been researching the most common and devastating diseases Americans are dealing with, with the aim of finding a common thread running throughout both cause and reversal. As it is now, one out of every two of us will get cancer or heart disease, and one out of every three children born after the year 2000 will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. These are devastating diseases, certainly to those who are burdened by them, but also to a health care system that is struggling to keep up.
The extraordinary doctors and nutritional scientists I’ve talked with seem to be saying – and saying fervently – the same thing: a diet high in animal protein is disastrous to our health, while a plant-based (vegan) diet prevents disease and is restorative to our health. And they say this with peer-reviewed (the gold standard of studies) science to back them up. Even the very conservative ADA (American Dietetic Association) says: “Vegetarian diets are often associated with a number of health advantages, including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels, and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower overall cancer rates.”
Diabetes does not just mean you take a pill or injection every day. It means you can lose a decade of life. And you while you inch toward that uncomfortable end, you deal with an increased risk of heart attack, blindness, amputation, and loss of kidney function. It’s a very serious disease. The good news is that diabetes can be halted and reversed in a very short time through some diet modifications.
To understand diabetes better, and to learn how to reverse it, I’ve talked with Dr. Neal Barnard, president of The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. He is an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine, and the author of numerous scientific articles in leading peer-reviewed journals, and a frequent lecturer at the American Diabetes Association’s scientific sessions. His diabetes research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Government’s research branch. He is also the author of Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes.
KF: Why is type 2 diabetes suddenly so prevalent?
NB: Diets are changing, not just in the U.S., but worldwide. Diabetes seems to follow the spread of meaty, high-fat, high-calorie diets. In Japan, for example, the traditional rice-based diet kept the population generally healthy and thin for many centuries. Up until 1980, only 1-5% of Japanese adults over age 40 had diabetes. Starting around that time, however, the rapid westernization of the diet meant that meat, milk, cheese, and sodas became fashionable. Waistlines expanded, and, by 1990, diabetes prevalence in Japan had climbed to 11-12%.
The same sort of trend has occurred in the U.S. Over the last century, per capita meat consumption increased from about 150 pounds per year (which was already very high, compared with other countries) in the early 1900s to over 200 pounds today. In other words, the average American now eats 50 pounds more meat every year, compared with a century ago. In the same interval, cheese intake soared from less than 4 pounds per person per year to about 32 pounds today. Sugar intake has gone up, too, by about 30 pounds per person per year. Where are we putting all that extra meat, cheese, and sugar? It contributes to body fat, of course, and diabetes follows. Today, about 13% of the U.S. adult population has type 2 diabetes, although many of them are not yet aware they have it.
KF: What causes diabetes?
NB: Normally, the cells of the body use the simple sugar glucose as fuel, the way a car uses gasoline. Glucose comes from starchy or sweet foods we eat, and the hormone insulin escorts it into the muscle cells to power our movements. Glucose also passes into our brain cells to power our thoughts. In type 2 diabetes, the cells resist insulin’s action, so glucose has trouble getting into the cells.
KF: What happens to the body when one develops diabetes? What’s the fallout?
NB: If glucose can’t get into the cells, it builds up in the blood. It is as if gasoline coming out of a gas pump somehow can’t get into your gas tank, and it ends up spilling over the side of your car, coming in through your car windows, and dribbling all over the pavement. It is a dangerous situation. The abnormally high levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream are toxic to the blood vessels, especially the tiny blood vessels of the eyes, the kidneys, the extremities, and the heart.
KF: Is it really that serious, or can we just take a drug for it?
NB: A person with diabetes loses more than a decade of life, on average; about three-quarters will die prematurely of a heart attack. It is also a leading cause of blindness, amputations, and loss of kidney function. Many drugs are available, from insulin to oral medications and an ever-increasing variety of other medications. In order to protect the heart, many patients are also put on medications to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. A person with diabetes who walks into my office is typically using $3,000 to $5,000 worth of medications each year. And yet these medications only slow the progression of the disease; many people have serious complications despite being on medications.
Let me emphasize that this grim scenario does not have to occur. If an unhealthy diet is the cause, a better diet can provide the answer to this problem.
KF: How can we avoid it?
NB: The key is to help our body’s insulin to work normally. So long as your body’s insulin can escort glucose into the cells normally, diabetes will not occur. The resistance to insulin that leads to diabetes appears to be caused by a build-up of fat inside the muscle cells and also inside the liver. Let me draw an analogy: I arrive home from work one day, and put my key in my front door lock. But I notice the key does not turn properly, and the door does not open. Peering inside the lock, I see that someone has jammed chewing gum into the lock. Now, if the insulin “key” cannot open up the cell to glucose, there is something interfering with it. It’s not chewing gum, of course. The problem is fat. In the same way that chewing gum in a lock makes it hard to open your front door, fat particles inside muscle cells interfere with insulin’s efforts to open the cell to glucose. This fat comes from beef, chicken, fish, cooking oils, dairy products, etc. The answer is to avoid these fatty foods. People who avoid all animal products obviously get no animal fat at all, they appear to have much less fat build-up inside their cells, and their risk of diabetes is extremely low. Minimizing vegetable oils helps, too.
And we can go beyond prevention. When people who already have diabetes adopt a low-fat vegan diet, their condition often improves dramatically. In our research, funded by the U.S. Government, we found that a vegan diet is more effective than a traditional current diabetes diet, and is much safer than a low-carb diet.
KF: What about the claim that a vegetarian diet has too many starches, which raises blood sugar?
NB: Starchy foods, such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables, are healthful foods, and the body is designed to use the glucose that they hold. In type 2 diabetes, the body has lost some of this ability. But the answer is not to avoid starches, but to restore the body’s ability to use them. After all, cultures whose diets are traditionally high in carbohydrate–Japan, China, Latin America, etc.–have had very low diabetes rates until meat, cheese, and other fatty foods displace their healthy carbohydrate-rich diets; only then does diabetes becomes more common.
The Atkins fad unfortunately left many people imagining that carbohydrate (that is, starch) is somehow risky. That notion is as unscientific as suggesting that water or oxygen is dangerous. The body needs all these things for good health.
A similarly persistent but misguided idea is the blood-type diet approach. A popular book on this subject said that people with type A blood should follow a vegetarian diet but that people with type O blood should not. Unfortunately many readers with type O blood followed this advice, which turned out to be quite wrong. The fact is, people with type O blood do as well as everyone else on a plant-based diet. A vegan diet is helpful and effective, regardless of blood type.
KF: Can diabetes be reversed?
NB: Yes. When people begin a healthful diet, most see big improvements in weight, cholesterol, and their blood sugar. Their need for medications diminishes, and some may not need medications at all. In some cases, you would never know they had had diabetes. However, I caution people not to simply throw their medications away. They need to speak with their doctors so they can alter their medication regimens only when and if it is appropriate.
Let me describe a case: A man named Vance joined our study. His father was dead by age 30, and Vance was 31 when he was diagnosed with diabetes. As our study began, he started a low-fat, vegan diet and gradually lost about 60 pounds over a year’s time. His blood sugar control returned to normal, and his doctor discontinued his medications. Imagine what it feels like to see family members assaulted by this disease, but then to realize that you have effectively tackled it by making healthful adjustments to your diet.
Vance also encouraged me to mention that it is not only blood sugar that gets better, his erectile dysfunction also improved dramatically, too–in case anyone needs an extra motivator.
For more information, go to www.pcrm.org/health/
The idea that meat, in and of itself, is a cause of diabetes is ludicrous. And Japan consumes a great deal of animal protein in the form of raw fish and seafood. The other factor of consideration regarding the Japanese diet that was left out of this article is the calorie restriction. Studies show that a calorie restricted diet can greatly improve health.
Recent studies show that the biggest contributors to diabetes are additives such as high fructose corn syrup and glutamates in the modern diet. Hydrogenated oils (transfats) are probably another major culprit in widespread poor health.
Another myth that needs to be rapidly dispelled is the idea that a low fat diet is a good diet. A healthful diet includes generous quantities of healthy oils and fats. Vegan diets often are missing important fats.
Hi, my husband is a diabetic, getting progressively worse, more and more medications. He is 62 and I am 60 He has been a diabetic for 25 yrs. He also has high blood pressure and high cholesterol problems.
We eat differently, I tried to get him to change his diet a little, but to no avail. I know he eats way too much at one sitting. So I do know that eating a lot at one time overtaxes the system.I am on no medications and do not want to be. My diet consists of Lots of greens, fresh everything fruits etc. I eat raw foods probably 60-80 percent of the time. I do eat eggs, with vegetables twice a week, beans, every day, out of a can or on a salad. I steam vegetables alot, and what I feel that is very important is keeping a PH balance and staying away from foods and things that bring that balance down to too much acid.
I have changed my diet 3 times during the last year and exercise is a big part of my life now.
I did help my husband one time, as he drove for the Veterans Office , to their Dr. appointments and he flunked his exam (sugar too high). With diet we got it down to where he passed with flying colors! He won’t keep it up though.
I am a true believer that a person does not have to get Diabetes , also I believe you can get rid of it through diet
The idea that meat, in and of itself, is a cause of diabetes is NOT ludicrous., In fact you can turn a non diabetic into a diabetic in few weeks. . The true culprit in the development of diabetes is the enormous high-fat content of the Western diet. Of all the calories that we eat, 40% comes from fat.
In a natural diet it is more like 5 to 15%. So we probably eat 3 times too much fat.
We can take medical students and give them a high fat diet and within one week we can produce 50% diabetics. One week on a high fat diet. It has been done in 1927.
It was done again in 1964. It has been done over and over again. If I wanted to do this with my medical students in diabetes, all I have to do is tell them: eat all the fat, eat all the grease that you want for one week and I will have excellent chance to have 70% who will test as diabetics in one week. And then I will give them one pound of sugar every day for one week, for 2 weeks for 10 weeks, but very little fat, and I cannot produce one diabetic in 11 weeks. So, we have to rethink our understanding of diabetes. To understand the principle read this article from: a speech of Dr. Hans Diehl at:http://www.jmbblog.com/diabetes/
It is time for the people in charge of our ” sick-care “to do theirs homeworks..
A Friend became Type 1 after a Gallstone blocked his Pancrease and sent him into Necrotizing Pancreatitis. Anything you can suggest to help him? Using an Insulin Pump at present. Thanks
I am 83 years young and have been diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes. duh…. I cannot tolerate sugar b/cuz I have Hypoglycemia… so how does that translate into type 2 Diabetes? I rarely eat desserts. If I do I “pay dearly for it.” I take vitamin/mineral Supplements. I use Stevia in lieu of Sugar if I need to sweeten something like Oatmeal. I do eat bread sparingly and ice cream only a spoonful at one time. I am learning to limit carbs such as Bread and Pasta. My conclusion is this: I should limit my diet to vegetables, yogurt, eggs, poultry and fish. I am not even sure if I should eat grains such as Oatmeal.
What advice can you offer? I don’t want to feel lightheaded any- more. Please send a reply to Rdwyerdigs@q.com. Thanks.
Husband was told 16 months ago. We Put him on a vegan diet in 30 days he was off blood pressure meds. Lost 80 lbs .I lost 50lbs. Used “Life Style Centers of America’s” books. 30day Diabetes Miracle.org Diet and Exercise plan. We have kept the weight off for 16months do not feel we are missing anything. Don’t crave the sugar’s or the fat or salt. They both are addictive.Only drink water as you need more with Diabetes. Diabetes is a sign of dehydration. With in 1 wk he was saying how satisfied he felt eating this way. When your body does not get what it needs to heal its self you continue to eat till it does. Therefore we over eat. We reduced our plate size to a small desert size plate. This book has us Eat breakfast early and 5 hrs later lunch .Then if you need more you eat a very minimal amount. They address all of this in this book. So for the most part we don’t feel the need to eat 3 meals a day or more like before. We had a family member Heart surgery talk to my husband about salt. He said you can not get salt out of your diet eating out . He also said if you can Not taste salt then you have to much in your diet. Its preserving you from the inside. In about a week we started to notice the change in our skin. We are over 50 and we look as though we are in our early 40’s or younger. Because he had a high sodium,fat , sugar diet He was sick all the time . So it work .President Clinton just became a vegan because of his heart disease. There is so much research out that proving the facts that this works.
Good Health to all
Read Dr. Richard k Bernstein’s “Diabetes Solution”. Read Dr. Ron Rosedale’s Diet. These 2 men have normalised blood sugars. I work with them both. This is the only way to prevent complications and heal. Read my blog…www.tribaldiabetics.com for information that will explain to you the process back to health. i am a Type 1, Diabetic, Certified Personal Trainer over the age of 50. Commnt aftrword and I will help you. Veggies are great, but fat is where it is at.