By Matt Stone
Everything you know about Diabetes is wrong. Or at the very least it’s a half truth, taken out of context, assumed but not proven, or worse. When I say Diabetes I’m referring primarily to the most common form of Type 2 Diabetes (there are several types of diabetes sometimes classified as type 2 that aren’t really type 2, such as LADA). The following are some common myths that have become deeply embedded into the collective psyche of both the average Joe and his doctor.
If you are left scratching your head and confused after reading this, that’s good. We humans still have much to learn before we fully understand Diabetes. Those who portray Diabetes as a simple disease while singling out a food item or lifestyle factor as its cause are probably the same people that think that legalizing pot will solve the debt crisis, that obesity could be stopped dead in its tracks if people just ate more fruits and vegetables, that driving a hybrid will change the global air temperature, and that abstinence holds the power to eradicate teen pregnancy.
- Sugar does not cause Diabetes. In fact, many academic conversations about sugar (glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose) are about whether or not it protects against Diabetes and by how much, as you can see in this review. Considering sugar’s ability to decrease some of the hallmarks of Diabetes, such as elevated lactate and others it would be no surprise if it, in the end, was found to actually be medicinal in some sense. Or at least in certain contexts.
- Grains do not cause Diabetes. Again, the question is not whether or not they are causative of Diabetes, but how protective are they, what types are protective, and for whom are they protective.
- Dieting does not improve Diabetes. There was a big headline story a while back showing that extreme calorie restriction can reduce or even eliminate Diabetes. Sure, reducing food intake can temporarily improve the biomarkers for many health conditions. It is not a lasting cure, and repeated dieting is associated with higher rates of obesity and type 2 Diabetes, perhaps even causing the conditions it is purported to cure as I have asserted for many years both on this blog and in my books.
- Lowering your blood sugar doesn’t necessarily improve your health. Uh oh Scooby. In fact, one study showed good glucose control led to worse health outcomes. This one too. In my experience, when diabetics and prediabetics reduce food intake or carbs to lower blood glucose levels, health problems ensue equal or greater to the problems caused by high blood sugar. Starving oneself of glucose is not a solution to a very complex and multi-faceted disease. When it comes to improving any health problem, you cannot chase a number or numbers with disregard for all the other markers of proper function (hair, skin, sleep, sex drive, digestion, etc.).
- Diabetes is not a disease of glucose excess. Well sure, it is if all you are focused on is the blood. But glycogen storage and intracellular sugar are reduced in Diabetics when compared to normal people. Diabetes should probably be thought of as a disease in which sugar can’t get to where it’s supposed to go (cells and muscles), and blood levels rise to compensate, which is perhaps why lowering blood glucose levels can cause even more harm. More discussion on this can be found in 12 Paleo Myths.
- Carbohydrate consumption does not damage beta cells in the pancreas that are vital to insulin secretion. There’s not much evidence that glucose, singlehandedly, plays a role in damaging beta cells. There is a great deal of evidence that free fatty acids, uncoupling protein-2, free radical oxidation, inflammation, and many other factors are involved in beta cell dysfunction.
This is just scratching the surface. There’s no need to be exhaustive here. All this should do is demonstrate the far greater complexity that lies beneath the superficial beliefs and opinions of those less informed. For more interesting reading, Andrew Kim (who will be guest posting here on Wednesday) has shared some very interesting and more in-depth thoughts on diabetes, as has Ray Peat. As always, be open-minded and don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions, thus forming strong opinions about things you know little about. Unless you like being an idiot. After nearly a decade of studying human health, I’m proud to say I’m not sure what the cause of and solution for diabetes is anymore in any simple sense. I hope this helps you get there, too, and reopen the case on Diabetes.
When I communicate with diabetics, the first goal is simply to try to get more carbohydrate into the cells and muscles. The ultimate goal is to see blood glucose levels come back down as carbohydrate intake increases. Reducing stress, increasing the number of hours of nightly sleep, and increasing the intake of carbohydrates and salt usually prove to be the most effective interventions. There are exceptions. No two cases of diabetes are exactly the same in my experience.