I have recently spent more time in drugs stores than I would like helping my sister on her journey through (and hopefully to the other side of) cancer. Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens all had large diabetes sections offering support for a "diabetes lifestyle" -- glucose monitors, lancets, blood pressure cuffs, medications, supplements and pharmacy magazines heavily supported by pharmaceutical advertising. Patients are encouraged to get their eye check ups, monitor their blood pressure, track their blood sugars, have foot exams and see their doctor regularly for better management of their blood sugars -- all apparently sensible advice for diabetics.
But what if Type 2 diabetes could be completely reversed? What if it weren't, as we believe, an inexorable, progressive disease that has to be better "managed" by our health care system with better drugs, surgery and coordination of care? What if intensive lifestyle and dietary changes could completely reverse diabetes?
A ground breaking new study in Diabetologia proved that, indeed, Type 2 diabetes can be reversed through diet changes, and, the study showed, this can happen quickly: in one to eight weeks. That turns our perspective on diabetes upside down. Diabetes is not a one-way street.
We used to believe that once cells in your pancreas that make insulin (beta cells) poop out there was no reviving them and your only hope was more medication or insulin. We now know that is not so.
Continuing misconceptions about what causes diabetes and our unwillingness to embrace methods know to reverse it have lead to a catastrophic increase in the illness. Today one in four Americans over 60 years old has Type 2 diabetes. By 2020, one in two Americans will have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Tragically, physicians will miss the diagnosis for 90 percent with pre-diabetes or diabetes. (Below I tell you exactly what tests to ask your doctor to perform and how to interpret them).
From 1983 to 2008, world-wide diabetes incidence has increased seven-fold from 35 to 240 million. Remarkably, in just the past three years from 2008 to 2011, we have added another 110 million to the diabetes roll call. And increasingly small children as young as eight are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes). They are having strokes at 15 years old and needing cardiac bypasses at 25 year old. The economic burden of caring for these people with pre-diabetes and diabetes will be $3.5 trillion over 10 years.
If we have a known cure, a proven way to reverse this disease, shouldn't we be focused on implementing programs to scale this cure? Unfortunately despite this extraordinary new research, the findings will likely be pushed aside in favor of the latest greatest pill or surgical technique because behavior and lifestyle change is "hard." In fact, with the right conditions and support, lifestyle diet and lifestyle change is very achievable.
What did research show?
Reversing Diabetes: Can it Be Done in a Week?
The study, entitled Reversal of Type 2 diabetes: normalization of beta cell function in association with decrease pancreas and liver triglycerides, was exquisitely done. The bottom line: A dramatic diet change (protein shake, low glycemic load, plant-based low-calorie diet but no exercise) in diabetics reversed most features of diabetes within one week and all features by eight weeks. That's right, diabetes was reversed in one week. That's more powerful than any drug known to modern science.
We know from gastric bypass patients that with rapid changes in diet right after surgery, within just a few days, without significant weight loss, diabetes goes away -- fatty livers heal, cholesterol levels plummet. Some theorized it was because of changes in the stomach hormones related to the gastric surgery. Others, including the researchers of this new study surmised that maybe it was just the drastic change in diet. So they went about studying just the diet change without surgery.
They studied 11 people with diabetes and compared them to a control group. Through very sophisticated techniques including MRI imaging, they measured their blood sugar and insulin responses, cholesterol levels and fat in the pancreas and liver (some of the hallmarks of diabetes) before and after diet changes at one, four and eight weeks.
What they found was revolutionary. The beta cells -- the pancreas' insulin producing cells -- woke up, and the fat deposits in the pancreas and liver went away. Blood sugars normalized in just one week, triglycerides dropped in half in one week and reduced 10-fold in eight weeks. The body's cells became more insulin sensitive and essentially, in just eight weeks, all evidence of diabetes was gone and the diabetic patients looked just like the normal controls on all the testing.
While this may be surprising to most, it is something I see regularly in my medical practice. With focused, strategic, scientifically based nutritional intervention, combined with exercise, stress management and sugar and insulin balancing nutritional supplements, many of my patients completely reverse their diabetes. And the side effects -- more energy, better sleep, improved sexual function and weight loss -- are all good.
What most don't realize is that pre-diabetes and diabetes exist on a continuum and both dramatically increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke, cancer, infertility, sexual dysfunction, depression and dementia. You don't have to get diabetes to be at risk for all those problems. That is why it is so important to get your doctor to diagnose pre-diabetes early and implement an intensive lifestyle program to help you reserve it.
You may be at risk if you have extra belly fat, have a family history of diabetes, gestational diabetes, are in at risk ethnic group (Asian, Hispanic, African American, Native American, Middle Eastern), have high triglycerides (> 150 mg/dl) or a low HDL (< 50 mg/dl) or have high blood pressure.
If any of these apply to you or you have other cause for concern, here is what to do.
How to Reverse Your Diabetes
First, get your doctor to test the following:
1. A 75-gram glucose tolerance test measuring BOTH glucose and insulin fasting and one and two hours later. Your fasting blood sugar should be less than 100 mg/dl and your one and two hour sugar levels should be less than 130 mg/dl. Your fasting insulin should be less than 10, and your one and two hour levels should be less than 35.
2. Triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dl and HDL (good cholesterol) should be over 50 mg/dl, and the triglyceride to HDL ratio should be less than four. These ranges are meaningful only if you are on no medication.
3. Newer cholesterol tests measure the size of your cholesterol particles and is very effective in diagnosing problems with pre-diabetes early. In fact, this is the only cholesterol test we should be performing.
1. Eat a low glycemic load, high fiber, plant-based diet of vegetables, beans, nuts, limited whole grains, fruit and lean animal protein
2. Vigorous exercise (fast walking, running, biking, etc.) 30 minutes four to five times a week and strength training 20 minutes three times a week
3. Take a good multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D and blood sugar and insulin balancing nutrients (including chromium and alpha lipoic acid)
Remember, pre-diabetes and diabetes is not a one way street and the solution is not at the bottom of a pill bottle or the end of an insulin syringe, it is at the end of your fork and in the shoes on your feet!
Now I'd like to hear from you ...
Do you think diabetes can be reversed? If so, how?
What methods have you tried to gain control of your diabetes or weight gain? How have those methods worked for you?
Why do you think accessible, scalable, lifestyle solutions like these that actually reverse chronic illness are not more frequently prescribed in conventional doctor's offices? How can we change this?
Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.