Many people with type 2 diabetes are able to control and improve their diabetes enough to stop medication altogether, or at least to greatly reduce the amount of medicine they take, even though type 2 diabetes is claimed to be an incurable, progressive disease.
Many factors play a part in the development of diabetes. Among them, frequent consumption of starch-rich foods and sugar-rich drinks.
There are more factors, such as an expanding waist circumference, a history of diabetes in the family, age, and gender. The Wikipedia pages about diabetes mellitus (now often called type 2 diabetes), insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome have the details.
Because starchy carbohydrates and sugars are important in the development of diabetes, it’s helpful to know what a starchy carbohydrate is. Here’s a brief refresher…
Plants use the energy of sunlight to power photosynthesis, a process in which they use carbon dioxide from the air, and water from the soil, to make glucose and oxygen. The recipe looks like this:
sunlight + 6 parts carbon dioxide + 6 parts water = 1 part glucose + 6 parts oxygen.
Some of the glucose is used by the plant, but most of the glucose is stored.
To store the glucose, plants link hundreds of glucose molecules into long chains, like bead necklaces. Then they bundle the long chains together, forming a storage substance called starch.
Both glucose and starch are examples of carbohydrates. Basically, any food that grows in the ground, or is made from something that grows in the ground, is a carbohydrate.
A beneficial aside…
The oxygen the plants produce when they make glucose is released into the air again, helping to recharge it. That’s why plants are so important in our homes and cities.
If you’d like to check out which plants can clean the air in your home, this Wikipedia page about the NASA Clean Air Study has a list of the best plants to choose.
Back to starch and glucose…
Non-diabetic glucose responses
When we eat plants, or foods derived from plants, our digestive system unravels the starch, releasing the separate glucose units again.
The glucose is absorbed from our gut into the bloodstream and is carried to the liver, the fat cells, and the muscles for further processing.
The normal amount of glucose in the blood (often called blood sugar) is less than many people might imagine – it’s only about 5 gm. That’s roughly one teaspoon.
After eating a starch-rich meal (for example, muesli + orange juice, or burger + French fries + soft drink), a lot of glucose is released from the starch and drink.
The glucose enters the bloodstream, causing the level of glucose in the blood to rise far beyond one teaspoon.
The pancreas rapidly produces insulin, a hormone designed to bring blood glucose down to one teaspoon again.
Insulin does this by helping cells to use some of the glucose for energy, and to store some of it as glycogen for later use.
If there is still glucose in the bloodstream, insulin encourages cells in the liver to convert the remaining glucose to fat. Some of the fat is stored in our liver, and some around our waist and hips.
The blood glucose slowly sinks to the one teaspoon level again, and insulin sinks to its normal baseline level.
This brief description is how a non-diabetic person handles a meal rich in sugar and starch, and there is more detail in the article ‘Eating starch raises blood sugar and fat‘.
Diabetic glucose responses
A diabetic person, who eats a starch-rich meal, has different responses.
The digestive processes produce glucose from the starchy carbohydrate as usual, which is absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream.
As usual, the pancreas makes insulin and releases it into the bloodstream to deal with the rise in glucose.
But because the body’s cells have been flooded for years with glucose and insulin from starchy meals, they have become ‘deaf’ to their messages.
Insulin manages to get some cells to use glucose for energy, some glucose to be stored as glycogen, and some to be stored as fat, but a lot of the glucose remains in the bloodstream.
The pancreas reacts by squirting out even more insulin in an attempt to force the high glucose level down.
In a nutshell, people with type 2 diabetes have chronically-high blood glucose and insulin levels, even between meals when they’re not eating.
Sugar and insulin damage
Glucose in the blood is not a problem when it remains at one teaspoon. We’re designed for that amount.
Serious health issues arise when blood glucose stays way beyond one teaspoon, and insulin stays much higher than its baseline level.
Although most of our body’s cells need insulin to help them get their share of glucose, some cells do not require the help of insulin: they can absorb glucose without insulin.
These cells are tiny cells in the eyes, nerves, kidneys, and in the lining of very small blood vessels in the feet, heart, and brain.
Because they can so easily absorb glucose, they are among the first cells to be damaged by chronically high glucose levels, and we’re all familiar with the fact that people with diabetes have a much greater risk of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, and heart disease.
What may not be known so well yet, is that high blood sugar and insulin levels, long before diabetes is diagnosed, set the scene for Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
Dr Georgia Ede is a psychiatrist and expert on how our food choices affect our brains. Her talk ‘Mood and Memory: How Sugar Affects Brain Chemistry‘ is a really good one to watch if you’re interested in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Ede also has a very informative website, appropriately named ‘Diagnosis: Diet‘, where she has many articles about the effects high blood glucose and high insulin levels have on our grey matter.
Her article on ‘Psychology Today‘ with the title ‘Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease Is Easier Than You Think‘ explains in a way everyone can understand, the connection between sugar, refined carbohydrates, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Well worth a few minutes to read it.
Blood sugar control
There are many medicines available to reduce blood glucose and to improve the body’s response to both glucose and insulin.
However, because it’s starchy carbohydrate that causes blood glucose and insulin to rise in the first place, doesn’t it make sense to reduce the amount of starch consumed, thereby lowering blood glucose and insulin levels naturally?
Before insulin was discovered and made commercially available, the treatment of diabetes was based on how the human body works.
In the medical textbook ‘The Principles and Practice of Medicine‘, by Sir William Osler and Thomas McCrae, published in 1920, there is a section on diabetes.
In the section are recommended quantities of carbohydrate, protein, and fat for a type 2 diabetic patient weighing 60 kg. In those days alcohol also featured in the daily list:
10gm carbohydrate x 4 Kcal….40 Kcal
75gm protein x 4 Kcal..…..……300 Kcal
150gm fat x 9 Kcal……………..1350 Kcal
15gm alcohol x 7 Kcal.…….…. 105 Kcal
total daily calories……………..1795 Kcal
The amounts are based on the fact that carbohydrates raise blood glucose and insulin the most, protein raises insulin a little, and fats and alcohol raise insulin hardly at all.
Nowadays, that would be considered a very low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet. In other words, the LCHF lifestyle.
For comparison with the 10 gm of carbohydrate of the treatment plan, an average slice of multi-grain bread contains 11 gm of carbohydrate – 1 gm more than the total daily allowance.
Restriction of the food group that raises blood glucose and insulin levels the most (starchy carbohydrates), was the cornerstone of the treatment of diabetes before insulin was discovered.
After discovery of insulin
Children with Type 1 diabetes
At first insulin was used for children with type 1 diabetes. Their pancreas is unable to make insulin and before insulin became available, sadly they were very thin and had very short lives.
Insulin was a true blessing, because it enabled diabetic children to grow normally and live long, active lives.
Adults with Type 2 diabetes
After the success with type 1 diabetics, doctors started using insulin for type 2 diabetics as well.
Gradually, the previous non-drug treatments based on how the human body works were abandoned, and pharmaceuticals became the order of the day.
Medicines for diabetes have blossomed into at least eight different groups of drugs, each with its own company-specific, patented variant.
Diabetes, and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, has grown into a multi-billion dollar global industry, and it’s increasing rapidly.
Most diabetic associations recommend eating grains and other carbohydrates at every meal and snack, and taking diabetic medicines to lower blood glucose after it has been increased by the meals.
As we’ve seen, carbohydrates are digested to glucose and raise the blood glucose and insulin levels more than any other food group – the exact opposite of what a diabetic person needs.
This slide from a talk by Professor Grant Schofield comparing the amount of sugar from the carbohydrates in the ADA guidelines with the normal amount of sugar in the blood of an adult, illustrates the point very well:
Medicines like metformin and insulin do not cure diabetes. True, they lower blood glucose, but high blood glucose is a result of diabetes: it’s not the cause of diabetes.
Simply driving down blood glucose with chemicals does not address the underlying disease process. In the normal course of modern treatment, the underlying diabetes continues to worsen, and the amount of medicine prescribed gradually increases – a true vicious circle.
It’s open to debate whether it’s possible to cure diabetes entirely, but it certainly is possible to reduce blood glucose and insulin levels by restricting starches and sugars.
And that’s often sufficient to allow type 2 diabetics to live without medicines, or at least to reduce them to a minimum.
Diabetes management – helpful video talks
The video talk by Dr Troy Stapleton, a specialist radiologist in Australia, tells the story of his own personal experience.
At the age of 41, Dr Stapleton diagnosed his own symptoms as type 1 diabetes, and he followed strictly the recommendations for diabetics. But his condition didn’t improve, and he began to explore other avenues.
He now lives a low carbohydrate, healthy fat LCHF lifestyle and has good control of his diabetes. Although he is type 1, his video talk ‘LCHF to Manage Diabetes‘ will help type 2 diabetics, too, and is well worth watching.
Natural diabetes control
Keeping blood glucose and insulin as low as possible, by restricting starchy carbohydrates and sugary drinks, is the most effective way of controlling type 2 diabetes and stopping it from progressing.
After all, if a diabetic continues to eat and drink the same things that caused the diabetes, it will never improve, it can only get worse.
In a nutshell, go back to the pre-insulin era of treatment and take advantage of the way your body naturally works…
- enjoy carbohydrates from leafy vegetables and salads – avoid starchy carbohydrates
- enjoy a moderate amount of protein of your choice, cooked how you like it
- add healthy fat to replace the calories lost from starch and sugar restriction
- enjoy water, sugar-free teas, coffee – avoid sugary drinks and fruit juices
Large variety of choices
The articles in the section ‘Starting the LCHF lifestyle‘ will help you embark on a low carbohydrate way of eating so you can regain control of your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Many people have the idea that life without starch will be boring, but the good news is that there’s a very large variety of delicious foods that will not cause blood glucose and insulin to rise.
The book, ‘Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars‘ by Dr Richard K. Bernstein, is a unique resource that covers both adult and childhood diabetes.
Dr Bernstein explains step-by-step how to normalise blood sugar and insulin levels and prevent or reverse complications, based on his own experiences as a diabetic.
He also has a very informative YouTube channel and I’ve added some of his video talks to Thrive Low Carb’s playlist.
The website diabetes.co.uk has a community of over 165,000 people with Type 2 diabetes, who are benefiting from a low carbohydrate way of eating. A veritable mine of information, further expanded by an active diabetes forum providing support from more than 220,000 members.
And there’s a 30-day meal plan you can download for free…30 breakfasts, 30 lunches, 30 dinners.
Also, there are additional very helpful websites listed in the column on the right of this page, so please feel free to visit them.
After you have got a grip on your new low carbohydrate way of eating, and are seeing results like reduced blood pressure, reduced blood sugar, and some weight loss, you may feel able to add exercise to the mix.
There’s no need to go crazy in your local gym, though. Dr Mercola has many articles about exercise on his fitness website, including ones you can do at home.
If you haven’t been doing any exercises, the gentle ones designed for seniors may be a good place to start, even though you may be much younger. Later you can progress to more advanced techniques.
When we’re stressed we make more of a hormone called cortisol. Because cortisol increases blood glucose, it’s a good idea to keep cortisol as low as possible.
Although stress is sometimes not easy to manage, there are many techniques worth exploring. Here’s a good place to start looking for ideas: ‘10 Simple Steps to Help De-Stress‘ by Dr Joseph Mercola.
Questions? Comments? Contact?
As always, if you’ve got a question please type it in the comment box below. I moderate all comments, and will reply to you asap.
If you prefer, send me an email: info (at) thrivelowcarb (dot) com
Comments about your own experiences of controlling diabetes are very helpful for other people, so please feel free to share them, too. Thanks.
Important medical information
If you are taking medicine for diabetes and/or blood pressure, it is very important to speak with your doctor.
This is because restricting starchy carbohydrates and sugars will result in weight loss, lower blood pressure, and lower blood glucose and insulin levels.
If you continue to take the same amount of medicine you were taking before you started reducing starch and sugar, the medicine may be too strong for your new lower levels and may make your blood pressure and blood glucose go far too low.
Your doctor will monitor you, and reduce your medication as your blood pressure and your blood glucose and insulin levels decrease.
Do not reduce your own medication: let your doctor do it for you.