Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset” diabetes. But not any more. In fact, it’s no longer uncommon to see it in teenagers, and it’s even been reported in children as young as four. So what happened? And, more to the point, what can we do about it?
What’s the Difference?
Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are entirely different animals. In both types, there’s a problem with the hormone insulin, but it’s a very different problem. Type 1 diabetes is basically an autoimmune disease where the body attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin (the beta-cells). As a result, type 1 diabetics simply can’t make insulin, or can’t make nearly enough of it.
The widely shared view is that injectable insulin is the only available treatment for type 1 diabetes, since without insulin you would simply die. (Prior to the discovery of insulin in the 1920s, children with type 1 diabetes rarely lived beyond their late teens.) But the dietary and lifestyle modifications I’m going to suggest for type 2 diabetes are also a great idea for type 1 diabetics.
Type 2 diabetics make plenty of insulin—it just doesn’t get the job done. And since type 2 diabetes almost wholly results from poor diet and lifestyle choices, it’s not only preventable, but correctable.
When you eat, your blood sugar rises and the pancreas releases insulin to remove excess sugar from the bloodstream. How much insulin depends on the workload, which depends on the amount of sugar, which depends on what you ate. Simple, right?
Pure carbohydrates—especially those that are high in sugar or convert to sugar quickly—have the most impact on blood sugar. Protein has an effect as well, but not nearly as pronounced, and fat has virtually no effect at all. That’s why diets higher in fat and protein and lower in carbs are terrific for controlling both blood sugar and insulin.
Insulin’s job is to act as a sugar wrangler; it goes into the bloodstream, grabs extra sugar, and escorts it to cells to be burned for energy. Ideally, the cells that need sugar the most are muscle cells, since they’re supposed to do the heavy lifting. But the system doesn’t always work so well.
For one thing, our bodies weren’t designed for the amount of sugar and processed carbs we consume on a daily basis. And we’re not just talking desserts and candy. Virtually all cereals—except those that are really high in fiber—as well as most pastas, white rice, white bread, crackers, and the like are high-glycemic, meaning they convert to sugar quickly and raise your blood sugar rapidly. This puts a heavy demand on the pancreas.
Unfortunately, our sedentary lifestyles don’t create much demand for sugar as an energy source. So when you eat a carb-laden meal, your blood sugar goes crazy and your pancreas starts pumping out insulin. Insulin floods the bloodstream, grabs up the excess sugar, and starts looking for places to drop it off. The muscle cells certainly don’t need it if the only exercise they’re getting is pushing the clicker on a TV remote. So the sugar has to go somewhere else. And that’s a problem.
The condition whereby muscle cells stop paying attention to insulin is called insulin resistance, and it’s at the heart of diabetes. A good visual test for insulin resistance is to look at your belly. Men with waists over 40 inches and women with waists over 35 inches almost certainly have insulin resistance.
When muscle cells start resisting insulin, it takes its sugar payload to the fat cells. And they’re more than happy to welcome it in.
In these early stages, the pancreas may produce enough insulin to prevent blood sugar from rising into the diabetic range, but there’s trouble brewing. High levels of insulin essentially lock the doors to fat cells, making weight loss difficult. As you gain weight—an inevitable consequence of insulin resistance—those fat cells begin secreting hormones of their own, which are designed to keep you fat. The result is you become fatter while progressing toward a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
The obvious answer is to lower your insulin levels to a normal, healthy range. And the way to do that is by eating foods that don’t spike your blood sugar. When blood sugar is normal, there’s no need for the pancreas to go into overdrive, and insulin levels will fall almost immediately. In fact, most experts believe that insulin resistance—the hallmark of type 2 diabetes—can be reversed within three days of eating mostly low-glycemic foods that don’t produce elevated levels of blood sugar.
Since carbohydrates have the greatest impact on blood sugar, it makes sense that a low-carb diet is the ticket to preventing and treating type 2 diabetes. So an eating plan that’s higher in protein and fat and lower in starchy carbs is the way to go.
Such a plan can also be helpful for type 1 diabetics, because it may allow them to lower their insulin dose. And that’s a good thing because insulin has many other effects in the body besides lowering blood sugar. For one thing it sends a message to the kidneys to hold onto sodium, which raises blood pressure. And if you’re interested in losing weight, high levels of insulin are exactly what you don’t want.
An eating plan resembling the Paleolithic diet—foods you could hunt, fish, gather, or pluck—coupled with exercise, which creates demand for sugar in muscle cells thus reducing insulin resistance, is the best plan for controlling blood sugar and insulin. And come to think of it, it’s a terrific overall plan for anyone wanting to stay healthy for life.
Balancing Blood Sugar For Weight Loss
Keeping your blood sugar from going too high—and staying up there too long—is the key to controlling insulin. It's also the key to controlling your weight. Not for nothing is insulin known as "the fat storing hormone." When insulin levels are high, it literally locks the doors to the fat cells, making weight loss nearly impossible.
The other advantage of keeping blood sugar from being elevated is that it reduces cravings and hunger. When blood sugar rises quickly, it soon drops precipitously, resulting in cravings and binging—both the enemies of a slim, sexy body. Lowering blood sugar with a paleo-type diet of protein, fat, vegetables, low-sugar fruits, nuts, and slow-burning, low-glycemic starches such as oatmeal is the key to managing weight. In my book, Unleash Your Thin, we call this "turning on your fat-burning switch."
Unleash Your Thin contains six full weeks of menus and recipes specifically designed to bring blood sugar and insulin under control, thus activating your fat-burning switch. The program also contains the most comprehensive psychological program for taming cravings and changing behavior. It's the missing link to a slim, sexy, and healthy body.
Unleash Your Thin is available at jonnybowden.com.
In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, certain vitamins, herbs, and nutrients can help bring your blood sugar into balance. We like the following five products.
Almased synergy diet is a weight-loss shake/program that has been shown to be safe and effective for people with type 2 diabetes (and anyone else interested in losing weight naturally).
Michael's naturopathic programs support sugar regulation naturally has 30 convenient 5-capsule packets with alpha lipoic acid, cinnamon, chromium, and other nutrients.
Natural care sugar balance contains a proprietary blend of ingredients for healthy blood sugar, including bitter melon, alpha lipoic acid, vanadium, and the herb gymnema.
Nature's Way blood sugar combines botanicals and spices shown to help regulate blood sugar, such as nopal cactus, fenugreek, cinnamon, gymnema, bitter melon, and bilberry.
Nordic naturals omega blood sugar is an all-in-one formula that blends fish oils with chromium and alpha lipoic acid—two superstar nutrients for supporting healthy blood sugar levels.