Ebola…. Measles… Salmonella…. These diseases get plenty of air time on the news when there’s an outbreak in various cities around the world. I have a friend that reports the need to run to the drug store for antibacterial sprays and handwashes due to the fear this brings up for her. And understandably, these can be bothersome at the least or fatal at the worst, so they are nothing to take likely. But what is the likelihood that an individual will come down with one of these diseases?
BUT, there’s a disease eating away at our health, far more prevalent and pervasive then all of these combined. It’s so normal, we don’t even blink when a family member tells us they have it. When it’s unmanaged, it kills people. It greatly reduces quality of life… It causes fatigue, sleep problems, respiratory problems, nerve pain, and the list goes on.
Figured it out yet? TYPE 2 DIABETES.
And it’s a GROWING epidemic. Ten percent of Americans are type 2 diabetics, and 25% are prediabetic. By 2050 one third of American adults are predicted to have type 2 diabetes (1, 2, 3). We used to think of this as something only adults experienced. However, type 2 diabetes is now showing up in our children. This greatly increases their risk of other chronic diseases throughout their lifetime.
You know what the real kicker is though? It’s preventable! And what the conventional medical field isn’t always going to tell you is that it’s also reversible. This is where Functional Medicine can be life changing for people confronting a diabetes diagnosis.
Before delving into functional medicine treatment, let’s learn a little more about type 2 diabetes…
UNDERSTANDING TYPE 2 DIABETES
Think of it this way. You eat some food that contains carbohydrates like sweet potato. The body will take those carbs and break them down into glucose, which raises your blood sugar. You will burn that sugar for energy or turn it into something storable like glycogen (stored glucose) or fat.
If we eat an appropriate amount of carbohydrates along with other nutrient dense foods containing protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals, we will support healthy blood sugar metabolism.
But, welcome to the US. Land of abundant piles of junk food; donuts, cakes, ice cream, bread, you name it, the list goes on. Everywhere you turn you are being presented with processed food-like substances.
If we eat these foods at levels too high for the body, it raises our blood sugar, along with a hormone called insulin. Insulin’s job is to help shuttle glucose out of the blood and into the cells to make energy. If insulin is always showing up at high levels, the cells in the body begin to lose their sensitivity to insulin. When this happens, blood sugar and insulin levels stay high. AND we feel tired because we’re not getting sugar into the cells to make energy.
This is often when Prediabetes shows up, and if diet and lifestyle don’t change, diabetes often follows. So, it’s caused by diet?
CAUSES OF DIABETES
Yes, poor diet is the primary cause of type 2 diabetes.
But wait, I thought fat consumption causes obesity and diabetes right? OH YEAH… I remember that one from the 80’s and 90’s. Thank goodness we’ve mostly debunked this myth. I can tell you that eating HEALTHY fats is not causing your type 2 diabetes.
Obesity? This one was blamed for diabetes too, but skinny people can have type 2 diabetes. So, we know that’s not the only factor.
What about the Standard American Diet; often referred to as the SAD diet. Everywhere this diet goes, we see type 2 diabetes follow. There have been studies looking at the health of modern hunter-gatherer populations eating a traditional diet, and cases of type 2 diabetes are little to none. However, when these populations begin eating a SAD diet, type 2 diabetes begins to rear its ugly head (4).
There are other causes of type 2 diabetes that often go hand in hand with a poor diet:
Lack of sleep, chronic stress, sedentary lifestyle, gut dysfunction, and environmental toxins. All of these may play a role in the onset of type 2 diabetes.
CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT APPROACHES
So, how does this get diagnosed? You go to your annual check-up and your blood glucose and Hemoglobin A1c is checked. If you’re pregnant, you’ll get an Oral Glucose Tolerance test.
If your levels are too high on these tests, you’ll get a diagnosis of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Then what? Typically, you’ll be prescribed medication(s) to keep your blood sugar in range. You might get a referral to a dietician if you’re lucky.
The takeaway? You’ll be left with the belief that you are now diabetic for the rest of your life, AND (drum roll please and this next part said in a scary booming voice with “the end is near” music playing in the background) DOOMED to stay chained to a glucometer checking your blood sugar forever in FEAR of all the side effects headed your way.
Before I go any further, I need to make sure to give you this disclaimer! Conventional medicine saves lives. It’s amazing what can be done when you have an injury or acute illness. I always want my readers to know that I have GREAT respect for the conventional medical field.
However, it really falls short when it comes to chronic disease, and type 2 diabetes is at the top of that list. Diabetes expensive! According to the American Medical Association, it’s costing our country $327 billion per year. For an individual diagnosed with diabetes, they should expect to spend $16,750 per year in medical expenditures (5). YIKES! Diabetes is also reducing quality of life so greatly that some people can’t find the will to live with their conditions. Something must be done…
FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE TO THE RESCUE
Functional Medicine shines when it comes to type 2 diabetes treatment. It’s also far less costly than living with diabetes for one year, let along decades of managing the condition. For many, a functional approach can completely reverse the disease, and bring someone’s life back. The labs ordered in functional medicine can also catch this disease process early before a diagnosis of prediabetes occurs.
Treatment involves specific dietary and lifestyle approaches along with supplementation. If you’re on a medication, this will be monitored and adjusted by the doctor as you make changes. For many, they’re able to come off their medication, and manage or reverse the condition with proper diet, movement, and thought patterns.
My role in this process is diet adjustment! It’s amazing to watch what happens for people as they change their diet. And it’s rewarding to help provide ideas, recipes, and tools to support patients as they adjust their meals.
LOW CARB VS. LOW FAT
One of the first things we do with diet is adjust the types of carbohydrate foods being eaten, how often they’re consumed, and the amounts.
I will always remember when the New York Times came out with an article discussing how low carb/high fat diets may be better for weight management and metabolism, than high carb/low fat diets. It was described as a “remarkable” finding!
There was a universal eye roll that happened with the holistic nutrition community on that one, as we’ve been recommending this for years. There was also a lot of jumping up and down that the truth was beginning to emerge on a larger scale.
At least now we have some proof with research supporting the effectiveness of a low carb diet to treat type 2 diabetes vs. the previous high carb/low fat approach (6).
THE KETOGENIC DIET
A ketogenic diet has been all the rage lately. For some health challenges, Keto is is not the appropriate diet. However, for type 2 diabetes, this can bring about some terrific results. You’ll need to consult with your Functional Medicine team to make sure this is the right approach for you. Studies show that the ketogenic diet reduces HbA1c, promotes weight loss, reverses kidney damage, and improves blood lipids and cardiovascular health in type 2 diabetics. (7)
Moving the body is vital for preventing and reversing Type 2 diabetes. In this condition of high blood sugar and insulin resistance, it may seem that you need medication to dig yourself out of the hole. And sure, there’s a time and a place for these medications. There’s also a secret back door to helping bring blood sugar levels down…
Exercise! The body has this back door mechanism for getting glucose out of the blood and into the cells to produce energy. And it is stimulated by exercise. So, if you’re working to prevent diabetes or reverse this condition, you’ve got to get moving!
Walk outdoors if you’re getting started on movement. Nature can be relaxing, so you get the double benefit of stress relief and exercise. If your mobility is limited, try aqua classes!
If you find it hard to get to a gym, there are plenty of resistance types of exercise you can do at home to get your heart rate up. Squats, push-ups, tricep dips on a chair, or running up and down stairs are all options. I’ll always remember watching this guy bench press his bulldog in Cheeseman Park in Denver. Now, I use my kids as weights when I can’t get to the gym! That adds on the benefit of playfulness to the exercise, which is also important for health!
Chronic stress has an impact on cortisol, which is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to the perception of stress. Cortisol plays a role in blood sugar regulation as well, so managing stress is critical to functional diabetes treatment.
LIFESTYLE AND MINDSET
Does your diagnosis feel like a new identity you have to get used to living with? I see this all the time, and I truly believe this is one of the biggest blocks people have to healing. Functional Medicine uses diet, lifestyle, and exercise to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes with very positive results.
We also know that to implement diet and lifestyle changes, it takes effort. We have to change our habits, and that’s not easy. I have a secret to tell you though…. It is within your ability to do, and it is incredibly rewarding!
It all starts with mindset.
Believing you can be healthy, that you can forge a new path for yourself. In functional medicine we watch this happen all the time. Setting a vision of health that leads to small weekly goals. These goals add up over time to BIG results.
It just takes a commitment to change your daily habits and to surround yourself with the support system that you need to make these changes happen.
We’d love to hear from you! Share your stories, ask your questions here on the blog!