Diabetes. We have heard about it, seen it in our loved ones, and possibly have been diagnosed ourselves. With diabetes affecting over 100 million Americans, this disease is taking over our nation. According to The American Diabetes Association we as a nation spent $235 billion dollars on diabetes in 2012. That is a 41% increase from 2007. What exactly is this disease and why is it on the rise? In this article I will cover the disease process and clear up some of the misinformation out there.
Diabetes is caused by too much sugar in the bloodstream. After we eat, sugars are quickly metabolized and enter into the blood. Nutrients don't do much good in the blood unless they are absorbed by our cells. We can assimilate most nutrients without a problem, but sugars aren't always as easy. There is a hormone that is secreted by our pancreas called insulin, also know as pancreatic beta cells. This hormone is the link to get sugars from our blood into our cells. Our muscles, including the heart and kidneys, thrive off of glucose (sugar). Most importantly our brains need sugar to function properly. Diabetes occurs when there is a problem with insulin production, or insulin utilization in the body. In other words, because insulin isn't doing its job, sugars remain in the blood, causing a host of problems including neuropathy, amputation, vision loss, weight gain, heart attacks, stroke, and mental decline. Too much sugar in the blood is toxic and makes our blood thicker, impairing circulation and nutrient uptake. There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
If you know someone who was born with diabetes, that person has type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, meaning that your body attacks itself. In the case of type 1 diabetes your body attacks insulin rendering it useless. Because your body needs insulin to transport sugars from your blood to your cells, without insulin sugars build up in the blood and cause diabetes. Those with type 1 diabetes have to inject synthetic insulin throughout their lifetime, however through diet and lifestyle management, the amount and frequency can be reduced.
Type 2 diabetes or adult-onset diabetes, comes later in life. However, in this day and age it's not just happening to adults, it is happening to children as well. This type of diabetes is caused by intramyocellular fat, in other words, fat build up in the cells primarily due to saturated fat consumption. Because the cells receptors for insulin are clogged up, the sugars are not able to enter the cell. This sends a message to the pancreas to secrete more insulin. More insulin but less sugar getting into the cell. We call this insulin resistance which means that our cells become resistant to insulin because our cells are not getting the signal. Many people think that diabetes is caused by carbohydrates. Yes, carbohydrates when combined with saturated fat can worsen the problem, but carbohydrates themselves are indeed not the cause of diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. During the beginning stages of pregnancy gestational diabetes isn't usually a problem. However once the placenta is fully formed, there can be some issues with insulin regulation because the placenta produces hormones that counteract insulin. Typically the mother can recover from gestational diabetes 6 weeks after pregnancy, but the mother's chances of developing type 2 diabetes afterwards does increase.
Diabetes usually is accompanied by other issues like high blood pressure and obesity. Simply losing weight and exercising can significantly decrease your chances of getting diabetes. The good news that isn't often shared, is that type 2 diabetes is a reversible disease. That means you can literally get rid of it and keep it at bay by watching what you eat. Your doctor may never tell you that but it is true. Metformin is the number one drug used for diabetes, but of course as a prescription drug, it comes with side-effects. Apart from drowsiness, shaking, stomach pains, irregular heart beat, and unusual muscle pain, there is a risk of lactic acidosis, which is a build up of lactic acid in the blood that can be fatal. I personally wouldn't choose to take that drug when we know that diet alone can help treat and prevent diabetes. What's the solution? Clear the fat from the cells. This means reducing the amount of saturated fats (animal fats) in the diet and increasing healthy, slow releasing carbohydrates like leafy greens, broccoli, and legumes. The best thing to do is to prevent it from happening in the first place. I would recommend purchasing a blood glucose monitor to continuously check your blood sugar levels. I have one that works wonderfully for $40. You want your fasting blood glucose to be around 65-99 mg/dl and your postprandial (about 2 hours after eating) to be under 140 mg/dl.
For resources on this subject here are some links: