It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that reversing type 2 diabetes and preventing type 2 diabetes require the very same approach. But once type 2 diabetes has finally arrived, it takes considerably more effort to reverse it than when the metabolic disturbance is just starting. The road to type 2 diabetes actually starts when we’re small children, manifesting the earliest signs of a genetic predisposition even at that age.
That’s right, even small children can show at least one body sign that predicts type 2 diabetes decades later in their lives! For those children, type 2 diabetes prevention should start while they’re young with education from parents. That advice may not always be followed to the letter – especially by teenagers – but it may be remembered in time to prevent type 2 diabetes later in life, so that the much tougher job of reversing type 2 diabetes won’t ever be necessary.
Dr. John Yudkin (a Ph.D. biochemist and founding Professor of the Department of Nutrition at Queen Elizabeth College, London) performed research that revealed the one easily observable metabolic difference between individuals who have the genetic tendency to type 2 diabetes and those who don’t.
Dr. Yudkin recruited research volunteers in their early 20s who knew for certain whether their parents, grandparents, or any older relatives ever had type 2 diabetes. For one month, these young volunteers ate exactly the same food, which contained – among other things – a relatively large amount of sugar (sucrose, or cane sugar). The students were weighed just before starting the diet and then again after a month.
Three times as much weight gained on the same foods!
After the month of sugar-laden food, the students with no family history of type 2 diabetes had gained an average of three pounds. The students with a family history of type 2 diabetes had gained an average of nine pounds, three times as much while eating exactly the same foods! If you’ve ever heard anyone say, “I can gain weight just walking past the bakery,” now you know why.
If your child gains more weight than others (or you do) while eating what seems to be the same amount of food as his peers then he (or you) may already be on the road to type 2 diabetes. You can test further for this yourself, without even consulting a doctor! More about this later.
So why is there a difference in weight gain despite eating the exact same types of food and the same amounts of sugar? The answer lies in a genetically determined difference in the amount of insulin secreted by the pancreas in response to eating sugar and carbohydrates. When there’s no genetic tendency to type 2 diabetes, the pancreas secretes a smaller amount of insulin. When there is a genetic tendency, the pancreas secretes a larger amount of insulin in response to the same amount of sugar or carbohydrates, sometimes significantly more. The more insulin that’s secreted the more sugar uptake into cells occurs and the more fat is stored!
Estimates are that over 100 million people in the US alone have the genetic tendency to develop type 2 diabetes. That’s approximately one-third of all Americans! Why should so many have this potentially health-depriving genetic tendency? It’s because the underlying insulin over-activity has actually been a positive ‘survival factor’ for all but the last few thousand years of human history! No kidding!
According to all available present evidence, for hundreds of thousands of years humans did no farming. They found food by hunting and fishing, gathering leaves and other vegetation, digging for roots, gathering nuts (in season) and looking around in Nature for other things to eat. The carbohydrate content of this diet pattern is usually low, with extra ‘carbs’ and sugar available only a few weeks each year, when fruits and berries are available.
That meant that the humans with the genetic tendency to release significantly higher insulin levels only experienced this for those few weeks of extra ‘carbs’ each year. The extra weight (caused by higher insulin) helped these individuals get through the winter, especially those winters when food might be scarce. By contrast, those who genetically couldn’t secrete the extra insulin couldn’t gain as much extra weight, raising their risk of not surviving really tough winters.
Simply put, the group which got fatter quicker when extra carbs were available was more likely to survive and have children. Their children and their children’s children have this ‘survival advantage’ too, so the ‘get fatter quicker’ percentage of the population will slowly grow over those hundreds of thousands of years.
But with the enormous increase of sugars and carbs in our modern environment, available year-round, the ‘survival advantage’ of a few weeks extra weight gain per year has turned into the ‘survival disadvantage’ of year-round high insulin secretion, the obesity epidemic, and the rise of type 2 diabetes.
(Yes, we will get to reversing type 2 diabetes as well as preventing it, but just a little bit more about the consequences of year-round high insulin secretion.)
A constant excess of sugar and carbs leads to higher insulin resistance
What happened when your mum or dad yelled at you? You paid attention, right? But what happened if mum or dad started YELLING ALL THE TIME? You tuned out, and the yelling had to get louder and more frequent to get your attention anymore. It’s the same with insulin secretion: if it’s occasionally in excess, your insulin receptors can handle it. But if it’s happening more and more, and year-round, your insulin receptors will tune out too.
Technically, that’s termed ‘insulin resistance’, which makes it harder and harder for the glucose to be transported from the bloodstream into each and every cell. But we can’t live if no glucose gets into our cells (that’s why before the discovery of insulin, people died of type 1 diabetes). So if our bodies ‘yell louder’(make more and more insulin), our insulin receptors ‘tune out’ more and more (greater and greater insulin resistance) until the situation gets so bad that we’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – high blood sugar that’s not getting into cells because of high insulin resistance.
Visualize an upward spiral. A constant excess of sugar and carbs, higher insulin, higher insulin resistance, continued sugar and carb excess, ever higher insulin to overcome ever higher insulin resistance until even all that insulin can’t do the job any more, and now it’s type 2 diabetes.
Are any of us with bulging abdomens (central obesity) who are taking a statin to reduce cholesterol, and an anti-hypertensive to control blood pressure ever told that all of this is caused by that large excess of insulin and not by a deficiency of statins or anti-hypertensives? And that these problems (along with the rest of what’s called ‘metabolic syndrome’, see page 6 for more details about this) will gradually go away if you get that insulin signal under control?
The same applies to type 2 diabetes, which is just the final stage of metabolic syndrome. It too will gradually go away if you get that way-too-high insulin signal under control! So now let’s review reversing (and preventing) the continuously high insulin signal which ultimately leads to type 2 diabetes. It’s definitely harder to decrease that high insulin signal than to just prevent it in the first place, but both follow the same general path to success.
Diet can help prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes
The diet for prevention and reversing type 2 diabetes is the same followed by humans in the days before farming and supermarkets: high protein and low carbohydrate. As it fits modern circumstances best for most of us, the Paleo Diet is usually the best choice. It comes very close to the diet followed by those humans who lived on our planet before farming. If followed strictly, this diet will enable the insulin signal to move towards normal, and even eventually (after months to a year or two) all the way to normal.
Earlier, I mentioned a ‘test’ you can do to assess the odds of your overweight child (or you) having the genetic tendency towards type 2 diabetes. Here’s the ‘test’: Put your child on a strict Paleo Diet (it must be strict to be as accurate as possible) for a month.
The more weight your child loses, the more likely it is that he or she has this problem. It’s as simple as that. Some children, particularly teenagers, can lose eight to ten pounds in that month alone! And if you choose to have your child follow the diet for a few months and his or her weight normalizes it’s almost certain that there’s a genetic tendency towards type 2 in play.
But changing your diet isn’t the only thing you can do to help reverse type 2 diabetes. If you or any member of your family has allergies, please test for food allergies, and eliminate any that are found. As explained by Dr. William Philpott, (a pioneer in the natural approach to health care) in his book Victory Over Diabetes, for a significant minority of us food allergies can disrupt sugar/insulin regulation. I’ve personally worked with individuals (particularly engineers) who’ve documented their own blood sugar rising way too high after eating beef, chicken, or eggs, all of which are a beneficial part of the Paleo Diet for most of us.
Other diet details can help reverse (and prevent) type 2 diabetes. For example, it’s important to recognize that thousands of years ago ALL food was organic, all meat was ‘grass-fed’, there were no antibiotic-laden ‘farmed fish’ or animals.
GMO foods with glyphosate residues didn’t exist and there weren’t any herbicides or pesticides. Food chemicals, flavours, and preservatives didn’t exist. Water was chlorine and fluoride free. But ALL of those things are in the food supply today. Realistically, avoiding all of them is likely impossible, but you should try to come as close to that as you possibly can.
For the record, the Paleo Diet isn’t the only one that will help prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes. For over a century anthropologists have observed that people around the world who eat totally natural, native diets – wholefoods, unprocessed, unrefined, and nothing artificial – rarely develop type 2 diabetes or any of the other ‘diseases of Western civilization’. Weston A. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, first published in 1939 describes multiple examples.
For the majority of us, the Paleo Diet is likely the easiest diet (though not necessarily easy) to follow. However, if you can’t stand it, you can try to put together a ‘native diet’ of your own with natural, whole, unprocessed, and unrefined (nothing artificial) foods.
If you already have type 2 diabetes – or are close with a Haemoglobin A1C test of 5.8 or above – you must strictly follow the Paleo Diet (or other diet as noted above) to reverse it. If you don’t have type 2 diabetes yet, but are taking a statin and an anti-hypertensive medication, it’s just as important that you closely follow the diet so you can eliminate these patent medicines and return to normal cholesterol and blood pressure levels. In either case, the weight will come off without counting calories, and you can tell when you’re ‘slipping’ if you start to regain weight.
Even if you or your child has ‘just’ a weight problem or symptoms of ‘CID’ (carbohydrate-induced dysglycaemia, see page 3) it’s worth trying the diet plans noted above. If your weight significantly decreases, or CID symptoms lessen or disappear, you know what to do!
Interval exercise is key to reversing metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes
Research has determined what exercise pattern is best for reversing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. (It helps with ‘CID’ too.) Here’s a hint: cavemen (and cave women) didn’t go jogging! Why should they? When they exercised it was very likely very intense exercise, running as fast as they could to either catch lunch or to avoid being lunch. There wouldn’t have been much point to just jogging around the forest, grasslands, or jungle for no reason.
Intense exercise is often called interval training. When interval training is applied to running, it combines short, high intensity bursts of speed almost to exhaustion with breaks for recovery. Research shows that interval training is superior to continuous moderate exercise for a number of reasons including better oxygen uptake, improved insulin signalling, reduced blood sugar and lipid levels, improvement of endothelial function, and formation of new skeletal muscle. Interval training also improved nitric oxide, and was associated with significantly higher HDL and lower LDL cholesterol, while continuous moderate exercise did none of these. The two types of exercise were only equal in reducing blood pressure and body weight.1
Other research found that intense exercise improved testosterone levels in men, and – as might be expected – more in younger men than older men.2 Although not formal research, my own observation over the years is that the best levels of growth hormone in adults are traced back to intense, regular interval training.
Along with diet, interval training is an important tool for reversing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, and of course to prevent these problems from occurring in the first place. A good book about intense interval training exercise is P.A.C.E, the 12-minute fitness revolution by Dr. Al Sears.
Gain sugar control with supplements?! Yes!
There are several vitamins and minerals which are essential for sugar and insulin control. Prominent ones include the entire B-complex, chromium, vanadium, magnesium, biotin and vitamin D. With the exception of vitamin D, which always needs to be taken separately to achieve the ‘tropical optimum’ (60-100 nanograms per millilitre) adequate quantities of the others can usually be found combined in multiple vitamin and mineral combinations specifically for individuals with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome or even just CID.
There are several good ones available in natural health food stores and online. In the 1990s, Dr. Alan Gaby (author of the excellent 14,000-citation textbook Nutritional Medicine) and I formulated ‘Glucobalance’, a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement for this purpose. (We’ve kept it updated over the years, too.) You can ask a doctor skilled and knowledgeable in natural medicine which ‘multiple’ for sugar and insulin regulation he or she recommends.
But as noted above, there’s never enough vitamin D in any multiple to achieve that ‘tropical optimum’. For many adults, that requires 5,000 IU vitamin D daily or more, with blood tests to determine how much is needed by each individual.
One other note about multiples for blood sugar: there are so many nutrients included that adults are usually advised to take a total of six to eight capsules daily. But that’s what it takes to help reverse type 2 diabetes; for prevention, fewer are needed. It’s always best to check with a doctor skilled in natural and nutritional medicine about quantities of various supplements.
Diabetes-fighting supplement superstars revealed…
There are many botanicals which have been shown to help reverse type 2 diabetes. A partial list includes cinnamon, bitter melon, fenugreek, bilberry, aloe, mulberry, green tea (the ‘polyphenol’ fraction), silymarin, banaba, maitake, elderberry, guayasa, pterocarpium marsupium… and the list doesn’t stop there. But at present, the ‘800 pound gorilla’ botanical for helping reverse type 2 diabetes is berberine, a major component of Coptis chinensis, Oregon grape, goldenseal, and other botanicals.
Nutrition & Healing reviewed berberine’s effectiveness in controlling type 2 diabetes (as well as covered it’s antibacterial, anti-Alzheimer’s and anti-cancer effects) in November 2011 and then again in February 2013.
As noted, berberine is presently the #1 botanical for helping reverse type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Although for adults usual quantities are 500mg three times daily, make sure to check with a doctor skilled and knowledgeable in natural and nutritional medicine about what’s right for you.
While berberine is also useful for preventing type 2 diabetes, it’s not at all necessary if the preventive effort is started in the first few decades of life. A Paleo Diet plan (or other whole food, unprocessed, unrefined, and nothing artificial diet), interval training type exercise, and a basic blood sugar control multiple in varying quantities will usually do the job. Again, please check with a doctor skilled and knowledgeable in natural medicine about recommendations for your individual circumstances.
However, some of the botanicals on the list above – including cinnamon, mulberry, and green tea – can be included in the diet from time to time, and even though the quantities of active ingredients will be small, the old adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ still applies.
You probably read last month about gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) and its ability to help reverse type 1 diabetes. But since research tells us that GABA helps improve the function of the cells that make insulin, it’s not a total surprise that it can also help reverse type 2 diabetes. Following is some of that relatively new research.
In a study of the effects of GABA on type 2 diabetes, researchers gave oral doses to rats which develop obesity and type 2 diabetes when given high-fat diets (‘HFD’ rats). The researchers had two objectives: first, to see if the stimulation of GABA receptors would reduce the progression to obesity and type 2 diabetes, and second, to see if, when type 2 diabetes was already present, GABA would improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
The rats were given a high fat diet for the first five weeks of the study and then given either 2 mg/ml of GABA in water or just plain water until the end of the study. The rats consumed about 25ml per day of fluid or a total of 50mg per day of oral GABA.
In the rats who were not yet type 2 diabetic, those receiving GABA daily gained less weight on average than the animals not receiving GABA, even though the rats didn’t reduce their intake of food or fluid. Glucose tolerance and insulin resistance measurements were also improved in the rats given GABA.
Oral GABA was also given to a group of ‘NOD’ rats who were already obese and type 2 diabetic. With GABA added, fasting blood sugar levels were decreased, and there were improvements in insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. The oral GABA administration had also led to a reduction in obesity in the HFD rats – including a reduction of fat cell (adipocyte) size and epididymal fat mass (an easily measurable fat found in the scrotum of male rats) – as well as less infiltration of macrophages.3
The botanical Gymnema sylvestre was reported to improve type 2 diabetes all the way back in 1990, but – as mentioned many times before – if a substance that’s natural to our planet worked in humans even centuries ago, it’ll do the same thing today, even if it isn’t patentable.
Twenty-two type 2 diabetic individuals who were already taking patent medicines for diabetes were given the GS4 extract of Gymnema sylvestre for 18 to 20 months. There was a significant reduction in blood sugar, haemoglobin A1C, and the dosage of patent medicines they were taking. Five of the 22 were able to eliminate ALL patent medicines.4
So if you want to go all out in reversing type 2 diabetes, you might consider adding GABA and Gymnema sylvestre to your supplement programme of a blood sugar control multiple, extra vitamin D, and berberine. Check with a doctor skilled and knowledgeable in nutritional and natural medicine about what quantities – and perhaps what additional supplements – are best for you.
Preventing type 2 diabetes is a lot easier if started earlier in life. But prevention follows the same basic diet and exercise plan as reversal: the Paleo Diet (or other whole food, unprocessed, unrefined, and nothing artificial) diet plan, and interval training type exercise. Then adding just a basic blood sugar control multiple in varying quantities will usually be enough to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Jonathan V. Wright
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 8, Issue 6 – June 2014
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.