The Startling Truth About Diabetes
Americans lead the world in an epidemic diabetes crisis. But most other regions of the world aren’t far behind.
By Sarah Jung, with Dr. Wes Youngberg, DrPH
Yes, diabetes is all around us, Type 2 in particular. But what is it? How does it work? And what effect does it have in our lives?
Diabetes occurs when a person has high blood sugars for so long, that they eventually cause significant health complications, if not corrected.
But why is there sugar in our blood in the first place, and what causes blood sugars to reach high levels? When you eat carbohydrates, your digestive system breaks them down into glucose. Glucose is the sugar that provides energy to every cell in your body. It is essential for life.
However, the cells must be unlocked before glucose can enter. Insulin, which is produced by the pancreas, is the key that unlocks your cell membranes and which allows glucose to enter.
Healthy bodies are designed to maintain healthy blood sugars. When blood sugar is high, the pancreas releases insulin to send sugar into the cells, lowering blood sugar. When the blood sugar is low, your body sends hunger signals, hoping you’ll eat something. If food isn’t available, the liver can release glucose into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar.
Diabetes occurs when something within this process goes wrong, causing seriously high blood sugars.
COMMON KINDS OF DIABETES
Type 1 diabetes: This occurs when the pancreas is damaged by a virus or when the body accidentally destroys its own cells while trying to protect itself from an infection or foreign substance. Because the pancreas is damaged, it is no longer able to produce insulin. In order to control their blood sugars, people with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections for the rest of their lives.
Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all diabetes cases. It’s usually diagnosed in children and young adults.
Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetics are able to produce insulin, but because of too much fat circulating in their blood, their cells become resistant to it. Why would too much fat be circulating in their bloodstreams? Because they are eating too many calories for their energy needs, and excess calories are stored as fat in the blood stream, making the cell resistant to insulin. This condition is called insulin resistance.
When the cells become resistant to insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, causing high blood sugars. Over time, these unmanaged blood sugars can lead to serious health complications like heart disease, nerve damage, erectile dysfunction, kidney disease, blindness, and foot disease that may result in amputation of toes, feet, and legs.
As the graphics show above, roughly 26 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes (90 percent of 29 million). Add the 79 million Americans with pre-diabetes, and you have a whopping 105 million Americans with some form of insulin resistance.
But here’s the catch: these 105 million Americans have a condition that is preventable and reversible. Healthy lifestyle habits, such as nutrition and exercise, can stop Type 2 diabetes in its tracks!
It’s true. Type 2 diabetes can be completely reversed. But if it can actually be improved so dramatically, why don’t we hear more about this from the medical community? Why aren’t diabetic patients taught the valuable information they need to transform their health and change their lives forever?
All too often, patients are treated for the symptoms of the disease, while the underlying causes of disease are left unaddressed.
The unfortunate truth is this: In our fast-paced, money-driven healthcare system, providers simply don’t have adequate time to educate their patients about how to be healthy. All too often, patients are treated for the symptoms of the disease, while the underlying causes of disease are left unaddressed.
The prevailing medical paradigm has taught and continues to teach that diabetes is a chronic, unending disease. The common perception is, “Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.” For the rest of your life, you’ll have to struggle with learning how to “manage” the disease to prevent further complications, but the diagnosis will stay with you forever.
This is simply untrue, and it’s time to shift your paradigm to something more hopeful!
Hope is a universal need. We can’t live without it. Research actually shows that people are happier, healthier, and productive when they have a reason to hope. Hopefulness is associated with increased academic and work performance, and decreased risk for disease and premature death. But what exactly is hope, and why is it so important?
Hope is the feeling that what is desired could actually be possible. When we believe a goal is possible, we’re much more likely to invest the time and effort to make it a reality.
The idea––rather, the fact that diabetes is reversible is full of hope. A healthy, disease-free life is within your reach.
Take Tom for example. He was 91 years old when he reversed his diabetes. He was taking a routine medical test when his doctor told him that he might have diabetes. Multiple extensive tests later, Tom’s diabetes was confirmed and his doctor proceeded to suggest various medicines that Tom would have to take for the rest of his life. But Tom didn’t take his diagnosis with a sinking heart. Rather, with the help of a diabetes reversal program called Diabetes Undone, he committed to making the simple lifestyle changes he would need to eliminate his diabetes altogether—at 91 years of age!
“It wasn’t hardship at all, as far as I was concerned. Six months later, after the start of it all, I was declared non-diabetic. I reversed it. Two months later, I had the same extensive tests done, and I was still non-diabetic. And that itself is the reward. I’m eternally grateful. What I’ve done is no great thing, I think, but I hope that it’s an encouragement to everybody else who can now say, ‘Hey, this 91-year-old guy could do it—I’m gonna do it, too.’ I hope that somebody says that.”
Tom’s story is just one of many who are discovering that there’s hope for change.
YOUR GENETIC HEALTH SWITCH
You may have learned that your genes determine your destiny. You inherit 23 chromosomes from your father and another 23 from your mother. They might be good genes, or they might be bad genes, but “there’s nothing you can do about it.”
As it turns out, that’s not quite true. Although we can’t alter our DNA, we can change the way that it expresses itself. An incredibly oversimplified metaphor for how your genetic switch works is this: a light switch. Believe it or not, your body can actually “flip a switch” and turn good genes “on” and bad genes “off.” Inside your genetic makeup are thousands of “health switches” and “disease switches.” You, being the owner of your body, have the power to turn them on or off. It’s not science fiction; in fact, it’s called epigenetics.
We can learn an epigenetic lesson from an experiment with two mice. These mice look very different. One is obese, the other is lean. One is yellow, the other is brown. One mouse is sick, and the other is healthy. But, believe it or not, these mice are genetically identical. How is this possible?
Dr. Randy Jirtle, a leading expert in the field of epigenetics, did a fascinating experiment with mice genetically bred to be obese. They were born with a yellow coat instead of a brown coat, and genetically wired to gain weight rapidly and develop diabetes, heart disease, and often, cancer. They gave birth to more diseased mice, and the cycle continued.
“…everything we do—everything we eat or smoke—can a ect our gene expression and that of future generations.”
Dr. Jirtle, lead epigenetic researcher
Because of his interest in epigenetics, Dr. Jirtle experimented with a special nutritional supplement in addition to their regular diet. Imagine his surprise when the fat, yellow mice began giving birth to lean, healthy mice with brown coats! These brown offspring weren’t at risk for the diseases of their parents.
At first, Dr. Jirtle and his team of researchers thought that the gene had changed in the offspring. However, testing revealed that the healthy brown mice had the exact same gene as their parents; it simply wasn’t activated anymore. It had been switched off through diet.
This is exciting news. A simple nutritional change made a profound genetic difference, which tells us that not only can our health choices improve our own genetic outcomes, but they can also influence the health of future generations.
Reflecting on the mouse study, Dr. Jirtle wrote, “Epigenetics is proving we have some responsibility for the integrity of our genome. Before, genes predetermined outcomes; now, everything we do—everything we eat or smoke—can affect our gene expression and that of future generations. Epigenetics introduces the concept of free will into our idea of genetics.”
UNDOING DIABETES IS YOUR CHOICE
You might be wondering what free will has to do with all of this. The dictionary defines free will as, “the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate.
What a beautifully empowering thought! If you are struggling with Type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, or any other lifestyle-related disease, you don’t have to accept that your diagnosis is your destiny. Health has much more to do with your choice than with chance.
Start today, because every single good choice of free will counts. Go for a walk. Eat some fresh vegetables. Go to sleep early, getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep. The simple choices you make every day will soon begin turning your good genes on and your bad genes off. It’s never too late to begin your journey back to health.
Sarah Jung is the associate director of Life & Health Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to simplifying what it means to be healthy. Life & Health Network produced the diabetes reversal program Diabetes Undone, which reveals misconceptions of diabetes and shares the simple lifestyle changes needed to reverse Type 2 diabetes forever. For more information and to have access to the program, please visit www.diabetesundone.com.
Dr. Wes Youngbergis the author of Goodbye Diabetes and Hello Healthy, and the host of Diabetes Undone. He earned a doctor of public health degree in clinical preventative care and a master of public health degree in nutrition. He is an assistant clinical professor for the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Youngberg is also a certified nutrition specialist and a founding director and fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
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