Diabetes is an epidemic –in the United States and around the world. It’s not just a gradual increase, either. Diagnoses have risen exponentially in just the last couple of decades and we’re continuing down that destructive path. Most people know diabetes has something to do with sugar and the body’s ability to use it. In fact, you may even know someone who gives themselves insulin so that they can eat a higher sugar dessert. Why is diabetes rising, and what can we do about it?
What is Diabetes?
There are overall two types of diabetes, designated as type 1 and type 2 –a third type occasionally happens during pregnancy, but usually resolves when the baby is born. Both types 1 and 2 are caused by the body’s inability to properly use the hormone insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and its main role is to regulate blood sugar. Insulin binds to sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream and moves it into the cells, where it’s used for energy.
The problem comes in when we either cannot produce insulin or we have more sugar than we can use, causing sugar to convert to fat as a form of storage. The cells grow and we grow, leading us down the road to diabetes and obesity.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Diabetes is characterized by a constellation of symptoms, although they vary in severity depending on the type and on how much the blood sugar is elevated. Here’s the Mayo Clinic’s list of signs and symptoms for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Presence of ketones in the urine
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent infections
These symptoms can show up at any age. Type 1 diabetes is more often diagnosed in children and adolescents and type 2 diabetes now occurs at any age. As we continue to follow the Standard American Diet (SAD), it’s being diagnosed more and more often in children.
Diabetes Types 1 and 2
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes used to be called childhood diabetes because it was historically most often diagnosed in childhood. This type tends to be due to an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the beta cells of the pancreas, preventing them from producing the hormone insulin.
The lack of insulin production means that it isn’t there to usher sugar from the bloodstream into the cells. As a result, blood sugar levels stay dangerously high, leading to inflammation and disease. Type 1 diabetics must inject themselves with insulin to replace what would otherwise be produced by the pancreas. They are referred to as insulin-dependent diabetics. The amount of insulin they give themselves is based on their sugar or carbohydrate intake.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes was once called adult-onset diabetes. However, now children are also diagnosed with type 2. In this type of diabetes, the pancreas usually produces enough insulin; however, after someone eats too much sugar day after day, year after year, the body starts ignoring the insulin. When the body fails to respond to the insulin, you have a situation of insulin resistance.
The key signs of insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, and increased waist circumference. Type 2 diabetics are referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetics. Type 2 diabetes can also become “Type 1A” due to a fatty pancreas that develops after a fatty liver. A fatty pancreas means that the pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin because it is infiltrated with fat.
Learn more about Metabolic Syndrome by reading The Wellness Way Approach to Metabolic Syndrome.
The Main Cause of Diabetes (A Short History)
Most dis-eases and conditions have several contributing causes. In the case of diabetes, there is mainly one cause with smaller contributing factors. The main culprit is… you guessed it: SUGAR. Eating too much sugar too often eventually leads to diabetes –either in the individual or in a child born to parents who consume too much sugar.
Why do we tend to eat so much sugar? Because Americans have been avoiding fat in their diets since the 1960s. It all goes back to this cholesterol study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1965: Quantitative effects of dietary fat on serum cholesterol in man. Here’s a summary of the study:
Researchers -who used fats and oils supplied by Proctor & Gamble and milk and ice cream supplied by the Hood Milk Company- developed something that would come to be known as the Hegsted equation, which predicts the relationship between fats in the diet and serum cholesterol. They tested these fats and oils by incorporating them into “waffles, muffins, cakes, cookies, pie crust, biscuits, salad dressings, and spreads for bread”; their focus of concern was fats in the diet and serum cholesterol. [The rationale behind their experiment was to contradict the conclusion stated by Ancel Keys a decade earlier, that dietary cholesterol does not have an effect on serum cholesterol.]
So, researchers essentially put butter on bread, and when cholesterol went up, they blamed the butter, not the bread. Bread is very high in carbohydrates, as are muffins, waffles, cookies, cakes, and pie crusts. It’s not just the sugar in these foods; it’s also the flour (whether that’s wheat flour, rice flour, or potato starch). The body processes all carbohydrates into sugars, causing cholesterol to rise… and a whole host of other health issues down the road.
Conclusions drawn from this study by Dr. Hegsted and colleagues resulted in the Hegsted Equation in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It showed (deceptively) how fats increase cholesterol and heart disease. Therefore, they came up with The Food Pyramid to show Americans how to eat.
Almost overnight, the American diet became two-thirds sugar with only one-third left for protein and fat. People considered this to be the most up-to-date, unbiased, scientifically supported way of eating that would solve all their health woes. Interestingly, the people who did the study received money from the Sugar Research Foundation.
The government then took this low-fat, high-sugar diet and forced it on public schools. If public schools wanted to receive government funding, they had to base their cafeteria meals on these nutritional guidelines. This is how we got diabetes “the old-fashioned way.” Adults also began to follow the Food Pyramid as the recommended way of eating for health and longevity.
Contributing Causes of Diabetes: The Three T’s
At The Wellness Way, we talk about the causes of health issues as fitting into three categories: Trauma, Toxins, and Thoughts. While the primary cause of diabetes is an overconsumption of sugar and carbohydrates, there are other contributing factors, including physical, biochemical, and emotional stressors:
Traumas (physical stressors) are not a primary cause of diabetes. However, anything that leads to inflammation in the body can contribute to a chronic diabetic state by impacting blood sugar balance. In rare circumstances, severe psychological trauma has set off type 1 diabetes. Diabetes is also more common in those diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Toxins are biochemical stressors that impact the nervous system and immune response, leading to chronic inflammation. These may be food triggers (like sugar or allergens), natural environmental triggers (mold or viruses), or synthetic triggers (like vaccines or medications).
Sugar is the primary biochemical toxin that leads to diabetes. It truly is toxic to the body. However, like many other substances, sugar toxicity is dose-dependent. You can get away with a small amount occasionally, but once it becomes a daily habit, it forces the body to adapt in ways that can lead to negative outcomes.
Even healthy foods can act as toxins if you are allergic to them. Food allergies can impact blood sugar levels by causing inflammation and creating an emergency state in the body. This can create blood sugar spikes and problems with insulin production.
Mold toxicity is another thing to consider. Aflatoxins in stored foods can create inflammation in the body, contributing to a diabetic state. Aflatoxins may increase blood sugar levels, decrease insulin levels, decrease beta cell functioning, and negatively impact kidney and liver function.
Viruses may also trigger autoimmune conditions, like type 1 diabetes. But it’s also possible that the altered immune response in autoimmune disease conditions also opens a person up to viral infections.
Childhood-onset of diabetes is also connected to certain immunizations. There is currently an established link between the following vaccines and type 1 diabetes: Hemophilus, pertussis (whooping cough), MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), and BCG (tuberculosis) vaccine. Diabetes is typically diagnosed 2-4 years post-immunization.
There are several types of medications that are associated with high blood sugar levels and diabetes. These include blood pressure medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, and chemotherapy drugs. Many women are on birth control these days. But did you know birth control pills increase glucose levels? Taking these drugs over time may raise your risk of developing diabetes.
Another drug category to watch out for is statins. Statins are usually given to lower your cholesterol levels, presumably to lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. However, statins actually increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease and defeating the purpose.
Corticosteroids, like prednisone, may also increase your risk for diabetes. While steroids are usually taken only short term, they can seriously mess with your blood sugar levels, throwing you off balance and increasing your risk for diabetes.
Arsenic and dioxin are two environmental chemicals that have been linked to diabetes. Arsenic is unfortunately found in drinking water and dioxin is found in foods that are higher up in the food chain, including meats, eggs, and milk.
Thoughts (emotional stressors) that can lead to diabetes are stress-related negative thoughts. It’s interesting that about 10% of type 2 diabetics don’t even eat that much sugar. Instead of being caused by sugar, this population of diabetics is mainly caused by stress.
When we talk about trauma, toxins, and thoughts, our message is that everything is connected. The psychological trauma, the PTSD, the toxins affecting our liver, and the thoughts that make our hearts race and raise our blood sugar levels can all contribute to diabetes.
The Swiss Watch Principle and Diabetes
The organs and systems of the body are designed to work in harmony, like a finely tuned Swiss watch. If one system is out of balance, like the immune system or the endocrine (hormonal) system, it will impact the other systems of the body, leading to illness. Blood sugar problems can create a domino effect of health problems.
Why is this? When blood sugar levels are high or low, it puts the body into a sympathetic (“fight-or-flight”) state. That means it’s in stress mode, which leads to inflammation and a catabolic (break-down) state. Three amino acids get broken down with excess sugar consumption: arginine, tryptophan, and lysine. When these get depleted, certain symptoms may result:
- Low arginine can lead to impotence
- Low tryptophan can lead to insomnia
- Low lysine can lead to herpes outbreaks
If the body is in a stressed, inflammatory state, it cannot heal or repair. The Wellness Way doctors have found that diabetes contributes to chronic illnesses more than any other factor.
The Wellness Way Approach to Diabetes
We do health differently! At the Wellness Way, we don’t guess; we test! Most health practitioners perform symptom-based care and use medications to force the body into the desired response. At The Wellness Way, we do thorough testing to find the unique factors contributing to poor blood sugar regulation in your body. Tests may include:
- A No Sugar Panel (including fasting insulin, hemoglobin A1C, cortisol level, thyroid numbers, and more)
- Food Allergy Test
- Gut Health (GI Effects) Test (including pancreatic function and parasites)
- A Viral Panel
…Or whatever else your practitioner recommends based on your specific case.
Then your practitioner will coach you into supportive food choices, herb tinctures, glandular, and other supplements to help your body return to balance. It’s a whole body, whole lifestyle wellness approach. Keeping the same way of thinking that got you diabetes (even if you add herbs) isn’t going to get you out of diabetes. Contact a Wellness Way Clinic near you to start your healing journey and get back to balance and vibrant energy.