It’s also reversible
So we have all heard the dismal statistics. 60% of Americans are overweight and 30% are obese. 90% of all diabetics fall into these two categories. Now for the most horrific news. Our children are too big for standard car seats. OK that has to get our attention. It is one thing to put ourselves at risk for blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart disease, stroke and cancer, but not our children. It is time to take control and just say no to diabetes.
So as a Naturopathic physician I am trained to treat the cause. We all know diabetes is caused by the Standard American diet (SAD) and sedentary life style. There that was easy. But let’s look a bit closer. Diabetes is not caused by high blood sugar (I can hear my MD colleagues saying… is she crazy?). No really, high blood sugar is a symptom of diabetes, but that is not what causes it. What causes diabetes is an imbalance of seven different hormones systems and our minerals. All of these imbalances come from poor food choices and poor digestion, resulting in vitamin and mineral imbalances, as well as our lack of exercise. Sounds complex doesn’t it? Actually it is not as complicated as one might think.
Let’s start with the SAD. This diet is devoid of minerals and vitamins necessary to allow for the aforementioned hormones to be effective. The SAD diet is what is referred to as a reverse mineral diet. It is high in sodium, low in potassium. If you look at the cave man diet, they ate things that came from the ground, pulled from a bush or tree and had occasional meat from a hunt that was shared with the tribe. Not a Cheeseburger or crispy cream in site. This whole food diet has a mineral ratio of approximately 6/1 potassium/sodium. The SAD, which is processed and packaged, uses sodium as a preservative and the mineral ratio is reversed 1/10, potassium/sodium. The more chronically ill someone is the more edema we see accumulating because of this imbalance. Sodium blocks enzyme activity in the body where as potassium enhances enzyme activity. Potassium improves insulin sensitivity, responsiveness, and secretion. A high potassium diet also reduces the risk of heart disease, atherosclerosis, and cancer. Insulin administration induces potassium and magnesium loss (Khaw KT et al 1984; Norbiato G et al 1984).
So here we have a catch 22. We eat a bad diet, which is low in potassium which decreases sensitivity of our cells to insulin which leads to increased blood sugar causing increased production of insulin. As insulin goes up it uses up our potassium and magnesium. Magnesium is used to relax the smooth muscle around our blood vessels causing dilation. As the magnesium is depleted, our blood vessels don’t dilate as well and we get high blood pressure. (We give magnesium if someone is having a heart attack to dilate the coronary arteries). Almost all diabetics have high blood pressure and are on hypertensive medication. Let’s not forget what insulin is. It is a storage hormone. It stores sugar in the liver and when liver stores are full it stores sugar as fat. Not just the kind around the middle, but in the form of cholesterol as well. Almost all diabetics have trouble with their cholesterol and have to take statin drugs which deplete the CoQ 10 in the body. CoQ 10 is used to make energy in the cells. As a result many people on statin drugs get muscle heaviness and cramps due to the depletion of this CoQ10. Unfortunately some of our pharmaceutical management for blood sugar increases insulin, making things worse. So here you have the insulin continuing to climb to keep the blood sugar normal. Then finally we get so resistant to the insulin, that we can’t make enough to keep the blood sugar in the normal range. Unfortunately, the only thing we test for is blood sugar, but it is not the first sign of diabetes. We need to be testing fasting insulin because it will go up way before we have measurable changes in blood sugar. Your fasting insulin should be almost zero since you have not eaten.
So what does high insulin do? Well this would take an hour to explain, so you will have to trust me with a list. Insulin, increases blood pressure, and cholesterol, it increases atherosclerosis which can lead to numb hands and feet, blindness, and kidney failure, and it is implicated in increased cell proliferation adding to the ranks of those with cancer. Insulin also affects the thyroid. You knew the thyroid had to be involved in weight gain. The thyroid makes mostly T4 which is an inactive thyroid hormone. Insulin affects the livers ability to convert T4 to the active thyroid hormone T3. As insulin goes up and the liver becomes resistant to its message, there is less conversion of inactive T4 to active T3. Then our metabolism slows down and we will feel fatigued which decreases our ability to exercise and we gain weight. This is why we need to check our free T3. You can make all the T4 in the world, but if you don’t convert it, you will gain weight.
What about exercise? How does that impact diabetes? It is not just about burning calories. Exercise also stimulates the release of growth hormone from the brain. It is the growth hormone that increases insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is what helps maintain our blood sugar between meals. IGF-1 helps muscles and organs to use sugar instead of storing it in the liver and the fat cells.
So as you can see there is a complex web of hormones, exercise and diet that are interrelated. Diabetes is not just high blood sugar, but a balance between, pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, liver, digestion, food choices, and exercise. It is important to evaluate all of these parameters. If you don’t you are just treating symptoms. It is kind of like putting a piece of tape over the check engine light in your car. You no longer see the light but you didn’t take care of what is causing it to go on.
There are a lot of things we can do to prevent and reverse diabetes. Start by eating a whole foods diet and getting some exercise every day. It has been shown that a 7-10% reduction in weight can help to re-regulate many of the things I just talked about. It takes time and effort, but the improved quality of life is well worth it.