Because TCM defines diabetes as a disease characterized by Yin deficiency and excess internal heat, an example of a dietary prescription would be to consume spinach, which is cooling, “strengthens all the organs, lubricates the intestines, and promotes urination.”7 A recommendation might be to boil tea from spinach and drink 1 cup three times/day. Other foods considered to be cooling and beneficial for diabetes include vegetables and grains, such as celery, pumpkin, soybeans (i.e., tofu, soymilk), string beans, sweet potato/yam, turnips, tomato, wheat bran, and millet. Fruit remedies, which act in specific therapeutic ways, include crab apple, guava, plum, strawberry, and mulberry.7 It is generally recommended that patients eat a wide variety of seasonal foods and avoid or minimize consumption of sweets and fruits. Meals should be smaller, eaten more frequently, and eaten at regular times each day.
A new study from the Faustman Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that a nearly 100 year old tuberculosis vaccine called BCG may hold cure-like promise for people with Type 1 diabetes. The bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, one of the oldest vaccines in the world, was developed for tuberculosis protection and for early stage bladder cancer therapy.
For 15 years, Erez Benari’s struggle with his type 2 diabetes had been a losing one. A software engineer at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington, Benari had stuck to a restrictive diet that kept him off most carbs, along with regular insulin shots. But still, his high blood sugar levels never dropped, while his health continued to decline. In 2013, the then 39-year-old Benari suffered a heart attack.
It's unclear how people get the disease — genetics plays a big role, though unknown environmental factors may also trigger the disease. Either way, the disease causes the immune system to mistakenly attack and kill insulin-producing cells, called beta cells, in the pancreas. (This differs from type 2 diabetes, in which the body initially makes sufficient insulin but the cells cannot properly use it.) Without enough insulin working to remove glucose from the blood stream, and allowing glucose to enter the body's cells, blood sugar levels spike. Left untreated, this insulin deficiency leads to a deadly complication called diabetic ketoacidosis. What's more, having high blood sugar over the long term can cause life-threatening complications such as kidney damage or heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
As of this writing, new and exciting research is being done to prevent and cure Diabetes. JDRF Australia is working on a cure that aims to allow the body to produce insulin and for the body to stop attacking its own B-cells. Another cure that is being worked on is enhancing the survival of B-cells so that they can be transplanted to diagnosed patients. In terms of prevention, since testing can now be done for an individual’s genetic risk, diet modifications have been found to delay the onset of diabetes to at least five years.
Steve Vincent, 58, from Southampton, England, was diagnosed with type 2 in December 2010. He was told there was no known cure and he had an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, blindness and limb loss. He had a BMI of 29, weighed 93kg and showed an HbA1c of 10.7%. In summer 2011 he read the reversal story and went on a daily 600 calories green vegetable diet and three litres of water, for two months. At the end he was and remains diabetes-free. In December 2012 he told me: "All my blood test levels are within the normal range, and my cholesterol and blood pressure levels are now normal." When he came off the diet he weighed just 72kg, although he has put on weight since then as he admits he has not been eating as healthily as he might, but his BMI remains at a healthy 24, and his HbA1c level is 5.5%.
In investigating how BCG administration produces its beneficial effects, the research team identified a mechanism never previously seen in humans in response to treatment with any drug – a shifting of the process of glucose metabolism from oxidative phosphorylation, the most common pathway by which cells convert glucose into energy, to aerobic glycolysis, a process that involves significantly greater glucose consumption by cells. The researchers also found that BCG could reduce blood sugar elevations in mice that were caused by means other than autoimmune attack, raising the possibility that BCG vaccines could also be beneficial against type 2 diabetes.”
But is John “free of diabetes”? This is where the lines become blurred. Medically speaking, the term “cure” is usually associated with acute disease—a temporary medical condition, such as bacterial pneumonia, that can be cured with antibiotics. For diabetes, which is a chronic disease, it may be more accurate to use the term “remission” rather than cure. Particularly when considering the pathology associated with diabetes and the individual’s genetic predisposition, relapse is always possible. In a consensus statement issued by the ADA, the term remission is defined based on the following definitions:2
“People need to understand the continuum of diabetes,” she says. “If they’re on an upward trajectory of insulin resistance and a downward trajectory of insulin production weight loss, healthful eating and physical activity will slow down the insulin-loss trajectory and improve insulin sensitivity.” But, she says, “If they gain weight back, the diabetes comes back.”
Together with evidence of normalization of insulin secretion after bariatric surgery (84), insights into the behavior of the liver and pancreas during hypocaloric dieting lead to a hypothesis of the etiology and pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes (Fig. 6): The accumulation of fat in liver and secondarily in the pancreas will lead to self-reinforcing cycles that interact to bring about type 2 diabetes. Fatty liver leads to impaired fasting glucose metabolism and increases export of VLDL triacylglycerol (85), which increases fat delivery to all tissues, including the islets. The liver and pancreas cycles drive onward after diagnosis with steadily decreasing β-cell function. However, of note, observations of the reversal of type 2 diabetes confirm that if the primary influence of positive calorie balance is removed, then the processes are reversible (21).
Acarbose (Precose) and miglitol (Glyset) are alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. These drugs help the body to lower blood glucose levels by blocking the breakdown of starches, such as bread, potatoes, and pasta in the intestine. They also slow the breakdown of some sugars, such as table sugar. Their action slows the rise in blood glucose levels after a meal. They should be taken with the first bite of a meal. These drugs may have side effects, including gas and diarrhea.
Other studies have found that people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes can go into remission through changes to their dietary and exercise habits. People who manage to achieve this with food alone will often express their excitement publicly by claiming they “cured” their diabetes with their diet. In reality, the likely put it into remission, though that remission can last a very long time.
Thiazolidenediones can increase risk of heart failure and should not be used in patients with symptoms of heart failure. Liver enzymes should be checked regularly with use. Other side effects include weight gain, fatigue, swelling of the legs or ankles, increased risk for fractures in female patients. Avandia may have a potential increased risk for heart attack.
After two months under the care of the naturopath, John returned to his primary care doctor to discover that his hemoglobin A1c had dropped from 8.9% to 4.9%—a nondiabetic range. For eight months and counting, he’s been off all his diabetes medication. His last A1c reading was 5.1%. With the help of his naturopath, John seems to have reversed his diabetes.
Who is at risk of developing prediabetes? A well-known paper published in the Lancet in 2010 recommends screening for type 2 diabetes (which would also screen for prediabetes) every 3-5 years in all adults over the age of 45, regardless of other risk factors. Overweight and obese adults (a BMI >25 kg/m2) are also at significantly greater risk for developing prediabetes, as well as people with a family history of type 2 diabetes.
O-3 oils, with both EPA and DHA, can help patients by lowering lipid panels (reduce triglycerides and cholesterol); reducing insulin resistance; reducing pain and inflammation so exercise and sleep are easier; reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure; reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; preventing and treating anxiety and depression; and promoting antioxidant actions in the body and brain to help reduce developing diabetic complications.
One of the most advanced alternatives comes from the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) in the US, which is developing a bioengineered mini-organ where insulin-producing cells are encapsulated within a protective barrier. Two years ago, the DRI announced that the first patient treated in an ongoing Phase I/II trial no longer requires insulin therapy.