Natural Solutions for Diabetes
While diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions, the prevailing methods to treat this disease are often ineffective and even harmful. Many doctors will tell you that diabetes is a chronic, progressive disease, and that very little can be done to maintain health over time. But there is hope for people with diabetes, and the solution may be simpler than you think.
Dr. Jason Fung recently joined us on Cellular Healing TV to talk about the epidemic of diabetes and a natural approach to fixing it. Dr. Fung earned his medical degree at the University of Toronto where he also completed his internal medicine residency before heading to the University of California, Los Angeles, for his fellowship in nephrology. He currently practices as a kidney specialist in Toronto.
During the course of treating thousands of patients, it became clear to Dr. Fung that the epidemic of type 2 diabetes and obesity was getting worse. The prevailing dietary recommendations to reduce dietary fat and calories were clearly ineffective. He founded The Intensive Dietary Management Program to provide a unique treatment focus for type 2 diabetes and obesity. Rather than focusing on medications, this clinic focuses on dietary and lifestyle changes that are simple yet effective. Before we get into Dr. Fung’s strategy, let’s step back and talk first about what we know about the disease.
First of all, it’s important to differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetics are severely lacking insulin, the hormone that allows glucose to be used by the cells for energy. Without insulin, the body cannot store incoming energy from food, so blood glucose levels skyrocket. So, for type 1 diabetes, giving insulin is crucial.
However, 90-95% of diabetics actually have type 2 diabetes. This is the type that Dr. Fung sees most in his practice as a physician. He explains that in the 1950s and 60s, doctors started treating type 2 diabetes with insulin as well. Unfortunately, the result was that people would need more and more insulin over time, and it didn’t necessarily make the patients any healthier.
Dr. Fung describes some scientific studies from 2008 and 2009: “What they studied was, does giving all this medication and insulin to lower the blood glucose really make you healthier? Does it prevent heart attacks? Does it prevent strokes? Does it prevent death? Obviously, type 2 diabetics were very sick. We all thought the answer was an obvious yes, but it turned out that the answer was not at all. Patients were not healthier at all.”
Why would this be the case? The two types of diabetes have an important difference: whereas type 1 suffers from a lack of insulin, type 2 suffers from something called insulin resistance. The insulin is there, but it cannot move glucose from the blood into the cells. The question that has puzzled the medical community for years remains: what causes insulin resistance and how do we fix it?
As Dr. Fung explains, the fundamental way we have looked at diabetes has guided conventional treatments for years. He calls it the “lock and key paradigm,” where we view insulin as a key that “unlocks” cell walls and allows glucose inside. He explains, “What [scientists and doctors] said was, ‘Well, there’s something gumming up the mechanism, just like if you had some gum and stuck it into the lock. Your key is fine, your gate is fine, but it’s not working because there’s something in there that’s blocking.’ If you think about it that way, then the natural solution is to pump up the insulin. That was the strategy for years, decades really. If you have type 2 diabetes, you’d take medication. When the medication wasn’t enough, they’d give insulin.”
A New Paradigm
With the lock and key paradigm, we’ve assumed that if you can get enough glucose into the cell, you’ll be fine. We have also assumed that high blood glucose itself is a problem to be avoided at all costs. But, oftentimes, medications simply take the glucose from the blood and hide it elsewhere in the body, akin to sweeping the problem under the rug.
As Dr. Fung puts it, “You shoved all this glucose back in the cell, it goes back into the liver, and the liver packages it up as fat and sends it all over the body. All this glucose goes into your eyes, and your kidneys, and your nerves, and your heart, and everything. Over the decades, everything just starts to rot.” After a period of time, this can cause serious problems, like diabetic neuropathy or deterioration of the cartilage. Even if your blood glucose is normal, and you’re on diabetic medication, this seems to do nothing for the degenerative symptoms that go along with diabetes.
To get to the bottom of the issue, we need a whole new paradigm for thinking about type 2 diabetes. As Dr. Fung explains, “The lock and key paradigm wasn’t really correct. The way to understand type 2 diabetes insulin resistance is that this is an overflow paradigm. When you think about it, you have glucose that’s not getting into the cell. Why is the insulin, why is that key, not working anymore? Maybe that cell is so full of glucose already that you can’t shove any more in. What’s happening is not that there’s something wrong with the key, and the lock, and that mechanism, but the cell is just so full that it’s actually shoving it out.”
Thus, the actual problem in cases of type 2 diabetes is simply too much sugar in the body. “Up until now, all the drugs simply shoved that glucose out of the blood, into the body. Therefore, they didn’t see any benefits,” Dr. Fung says. With this new paradigm in mind, “There are only two things you need to do. Don’t put it in, and burn it off.”
The Truth About Fructose
Clearly, one of the best things a type 2 diabetic or a pre-diabetic can do is reduce the amount of sugar in the diet. This means cutting back on sweet foods and drinks as well as carbohydrates in general. That being said, not all sugars are created equally. Table sugar is half glucose and half fructose. Whereas glucose can be used by the entire body, fructose cannot. It can only be stored in one place: the liver. So, fructose essentially goes directly into new liver fats, contributing to what we call “fatty liver.” Also, the pancreas gets clogged with fat so that it can’t secrete insulin.
Yet, if you go to the Diabetes Association website, they still recommend fructose for diabetics1. Why? Because it’s only processed in the liver, fructose doesn’t raise blood glucose. So, under the old paradigm of assuming that high blood glucose is the major problem for diabetics, it would look like fructose is a safe sugar. But the fact that it goes right to the liver and contributes to fatty liver is actually part of the problem.
When looking at the increased incidence of diabetes over time, things start to make sense. Of course, people have long eaten fruit, which does contain fructose. But the problems begin when the modern diet started to put sugar in everything.
Today, we have created a unique, unfortunate situation. The amount of fructose being consumed is very high due to the inexpensive additive, high fructose corn syrup, which is in everything from soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks to processed foods of all kinds, even ketchup. No time in the history of humankind have we seen fatty liver in children like we do today because of the massive amount of fructose being consumed. Dr. Fung adds, “In terms of causing diabetes, the fructose is something like 20 or 30 times worse than the glucose. It’s much worse. That’s the real problem. You see it all over the place.” One of the best things a diabetic can do, then, is avoid processed foods and drinks.
The Fasting Fix
In addition to cutting back on sugar (especially fructose), fasting is a key to fixing type 2 diabetes. Fasting is an important part of my own health regimen, and it’s a crucial part of how my group of practitioners help people to reclaim their lives and health. A number of issues can be eased with fasting. Remember, you don’t have to eat less, just eat less often. We typically start by moving people into a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet and eating 3 square meals a day (instead of 6+). Then, we start intermittent fasting for maybe 15 hours at a time, so people are getting more adapted to burning their own fat for fuel. As they adapt, then we incorporate a longer fast, maybe around 42 hours, adding diet variation to the mix. Learn more about Diet Variation in CHTV Episode 157.
According to Dr. Fung, fasting has a huge impact on diabetes. Studies have shown that in cases of bariatric surgery where there is a sudden, severe drop in caloric intake, diabetes can be gone in two weeks, even before the patient has begun to lose much weight. Why? The body burns both sugar and fat for fuel, but fat is more difficult to access once it’s stored. When fasting, the body can burn through its glycogen in about 24 hours, forcing the body to access and burn its fat.
As Dr. Fung explains, “When you start to burn body fat, the first place it goes is that stuff that’s in your pancreas and in your liver, which is great because that’s what causes all the problems. That’s how you can reverse type 2 diabetes in three weeks in surgical cases.” But you don’t have to undergo bariatric surgery to see results; you can start fasting on your own at any time. The best part? It’s FREE.
This provides great hope for people living with type 2 diabetes. As Dr. Fung points out, doctors will often tell people, “Oh, it’s chronic, it’s progressive, your pancreas is burnt out, there’s nothing you can do about it.” But it turns out that pancreas was merely clogged with fat. “As you unclog the fat, it’s going to get better,” says Dr. Fung. “Several doctors have actually done MRI studies of this fatty pancreas. What they’ve found is that you only have to remove 0.6 grams of fat from that pancreas to get it going again. It’s a miniscule amount…That’s great news because…then burning it off [with] intermittent fasting is a perfect strategy.”
Dr. Fung has seen fantastic results clinically: “If you’re on insulin, the insulin requirements go down dramatically, as do the medication amounts. If you start having people do longer fasts, you’ll see it very quickly. It’s a crazy situation because I see people – and after a month, they’re off of everything. It’s crazy how fast they get better.”
So, we’ve shifted our paradigm to understand type 2 diabetes as an issue of excess sugar in the body, leading to fat buildup in the liver and pancreas. This is a good thing, because now we better understand how to treat the disease. Instead of listening to mainstream doctors that tell us type 2 diabetes is chronic and progressive, that the pancreas had been burned out and we have no hope, we can start to take back our health with some simple lifestyle changes like fasting and dietary carbohydrate and fructose reduction. The truth is that people can start fixing the problem today and see results in a relatively short period of time. That’s why we’re always glad to have Dr. Fung on Cellular Healing TV. His message is powerful, because it gives type 2 diabetics hope that conventional medicine isn’t offering.
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