Ever since Robert Atkins launched his famous Atkins Diet in 1972, consumers have been encouraged to blame their weight problems on the carbohydrates (sugars and starches) in their food. Dr. Atkins claimed that the best way to lose weight and improve your health is to eat a diet that is extremely low in sugars and starches. However, research does not support Atkins’s ideas. (Atkins himself even continued to have weight problems, as you can see for yourself by looking at photographs of him.) In fact, many of the “experts” who push low-carb diets are overweight.
Back in the 1960s, an obstetrician named Tom Brewer realized that preeclampsia, which is a dangerous form of high blood pressure that occurs in pregnant women, is due to a shortage of protein in the blood. For this reason, he urged pregnant women to eat high-protein diets. However, most American women already eat far more protein than they need, and pre-eclampsia still occurs in as many as 10% of pregnancies in the United States. In contrast, there was only one clinical case of pre-eclampsia among 775 pregnancies among vegan women at “the Farm” (a vegan community in Summertown, Tennessee). These mothers were probably protected from pre-eclampsia because they were getting enough calories, mainly from carbohydrates (especially starch), from their low-fat vegan diet. The women were probably being protected by the protein-sparing effects of the carbohydrates they were eating. Because they were eating so much starch, they were burning less of the protein in their blood for fuel. As a result, they had enough protein in their blood to maintain a big enough blood volume.
Pre-eclampsia is a form of high blood pressure that develops in the late stages of pregnancy. It can lead to problems for the mother and the baby. If left untreated, it can lead to seizures, called eclampsia. Eclampsia is often deadly. (The word eclampsia came from the Greek word for lightning.) Tom Brewer realized that pre-eclampsia can occur in women who do not gain enough weight during pregnancy. In the olden days, pre-eclampsia was most common among poor women who were not getting enough to eat. But in the United States today, pre-eclampsia is most common among women who were already overweight when they conceived, and among women who have gained too much weight during pregnancy. It is particularly common among women with diabetes, including the temporary form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy (gestational diabetes). These women may be eating more protein than they need. However, their body is converting their blood proteins to sugar. As a result, they cannot keep enough fluid inside their blood vessels to maintain normal circulation.
When a woman has pre-eclampsia, the doctor can see her swollen ankles and measure her high blood pressure. However, the underlying problem of low blood volume is much harder to measure. During pregnancy, the woman’s total number of red blood cells is supposed to increase by about 30%, but her volume of blood plasma is supposed to increase by up to 50%. The volume of the blood plasma depends on the amount of protein that is in the blood. Because these protein molecules attract water, they help to hold water inside the blood vessels. However, the body can also use the plasma proteins for fuel. When you are fasting or starving, the liver will convert a lot of the protein from your blood plasma into sugar, which is then burned for energy. For this reason, starving people end up with low levels of protein in the bloodstream. A similar thing happens in cases of poorly controlled diabetes. Much of the excess sugar in the bloodstream of someone with poorly controlled diabetes came from the breakdown of protein from the blood plasma.
The protein in your blood plasma draws water. If you do not have enough protein in your blood plasma, you will not be able to hold enough fluid inside your blood vessels to maintain adequate circulation. You cannot solve this problem by drinking more water and eating more salt. Most of the extra water and salt will just pass out of the body through the kidneys. However, some of the excess water and salt will leak out into the body’s tissues, causing swelling (edema). That is why swelling is one of the signs of starvation.
During late pregnancy, the woman’s blood volume needs to expand. If she cannot keep enough protein in the bloodstream to maintain a large enough volume of blood, her kidneys will react as if she has been bleeding. They will produce an enzyme called renin. Renin activates a chain reaction. One of the results of this chain reaction is constriction of the arteries. To maintain circulation through these tight arteries, the heart must pump harder. As a result, blood pressure goes up. The chain reaction also causes the release of a hormone called aldosterone, which causes the kidney to retain salt and water, to boost blood volume. In pre-eclampsia, the woman’s blood pressure goes up and she retains water and salt. However, the excess water and salt cannot stay inside the blood vessels, where they are needed. Instead, they leak out into the tissue, causing swelling. That’s why women with pre-eclampsia have swelling, particularly in the ankles. Even though the women are retaining water in their tissue, they should avoid taking drugs and herbs that have a diuretic effect, which would cause further loss of blood volume.
If the theory that low blood volume is the underlying problem in pre-eclampsia is correct, then patients with pre-eclampsia would benefit from the administration of hetastarch, which is an intravenous fluid that is designed to stay in the blood vessels. Sure enough, the administration of hetastarch does correct the edema and high blood pressure in pregnant women with pre-eclampsia.
To prevent pre-eclampsia, the woman must get enough of the right kind of food. She must get enough calories so that she does not burn up her blood proteins for energy. Those calories should come mainly in the form of carbohydrate, especially from starchy foods, such as rice and potatoes. If you eat plenty of carbohydrate, especially starch, you will burn less protein for energy. This “protein-sparing effect” of dietary carbohydrate has been understood for more than 100 years.
Scientists have known since the 1920s that high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets make the body more sensitive to insulin. Thus, a low-fat vegan diet reverses type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes and improves blood sugar control in people with type 1 diabetes. Even during pregnancy, these starchy foods provide more than enough protein, as long as the woman is eating enough food to get enough calories. Thus, the woman will be able to have the normal expansion of blood volume that she needs in late pregnancy. As a result, both she and her baby have a better chance of survival.
In this lecture, diabetes expert John McDougall, MD, explains that type 2 diabetes is 100% curable. Type 2 diabetes is just a way to prevent you from storing more fat in your fat cells. It can be cured by weight loss of any cause. In this video, he explains the best diabetes diet. He explains how to cure diabetes mellitus type 2. Just eat a low-fat vegan diet. For more information about diabetes, see my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2.
Many healthy people and many diabetics have questions about aspartame and diabetes. Aspartame (NutraSweet) is a substitute for sugar. It is sweet like sugar, but it has no calories. Aspartame is used as a sweetener in “diet” soft drinks and other “diet” foods. Yet aspartame might not help you lose weight. Nor will avoiding sugar help you control your blood sugar. As I explain in my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes, the surprising secret to controlling your blood sugar is to eat a diet that is high in carbohydrates (starches and sugars).
Caution: A high-carb, low-fat diet will make your insulin work better. Thus, it can cause low blood sugar in people who are taking insulin or other medicine for diabetes. If you have diabetes or are taking any prescription drugs, talk to your doctor before you make any major change in diet.
A sugar called glucose is your body’s favorite fuel. Some foods, such as grapes, contain glucose. Many fruits and vegetables also contain other kinds of sugar, which can also be converted to glucose. The starches that are found in foods like rice, potatoes, and pumpkins also get converted into glucose. For this reason, a sugary or starchy food will deliver glucose to your bloodstream. Yet if you are healthy, a sugary or starchy meal will not cause you to have abnormally high blood sugar. When a healthy person eats sugars or starches, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. The insulin will tell the liver to store glucose. Insulin also allows the heart and muscle to burn glucose for energy. As a result, the blood glucose levels stay in the normal range.
The high blood glucose levels in people with diabetes mellitus result from one of two problems. Either the pancreas is not making enough insulin, or the body is not responding to the insulin that the pancreas makes.
- Type 1 diabetes (thin diabetes) means that your pancreas cannot make enough insulin to keep you alive.
- Type 2 diabetes (fat diabetes) means that your body is resisting the effects of insulin, to keep you from storing more fat in your fat cells. It is really the result of a fatty diet.
- A person can have both problems (insulin shortage and insulin resistance) at the same time.
Scientists have known since the 1920s that a sugary, starchy diet makes people more sensitive to insulin. In 1927, a doctor named J. Shirley Sweeney published an important study in the Archives of Internal Medicine (now called JAMA Internal Medicine). Sweeney had recruited a bunch of healthy young male medical students and fed them several different test diets for two days. Then he tested the subjects to see how well they could tolerate a big dose of glucose.
- After the subjects had eaten a high-carb diet, including lots of sugar, their blood sugar levels stayed normal during the glucose tolerance test.
- After the subjects had eaten a fatty, low-carb diet for only two days, they got severely high blood sugar during a glucose tolerance test.
Inspired by these results, Dr. Walter Kempner of Duke University started experimenting with extremely high-carbohydrate diets, initially for patients with kidney disease. He told his patients to eat a diet of white rice, fruit, fruit juice, and pure white sugar. This diet, which came to be called the Rice Diet, helped patients lose weight. It reversed type 2 diabetes, and it reduced the amount of insulin that patients with type 1 diabetes needed to inject. It also improved their overall health.
High-carbohydrate diets help you lose weight by satisfying your appetite. Sugar has a powerful appetite-satisfying effect, especially if the sugar is bound up with fiber and water. For this reason, it is hard to get or stay fat on a low-fat diet based on unrefined starches, vegetables, and fruit. Fat provides practically no satisfaction to the appetite. That’s why it’s easy to get too many calories if you add fat to the diet.
Aspartame was invented to help people lose weight. Aspartame provides the sweet taste of sugar but without supplying calories. Yet the effect of aspartame on appetite and body weight is not entirely clear. Low-calorie sweeteners like aspartame are so sweet that they might desensitize your taste buds. As a result, you may lose the ability to appreciate the milder sweetness of natural foods. In the long run, this suppression of your taste buds could make it harder for you to be satisfied by a reasonable amount of food. Thus, artificial sweeteners may actually make it harder to lose weight. If you want to control your weight, just eat a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet based on natural plant-based foods. You might even add a little bit of pure sugar.
The Internet is full of terrible rumors about aspartame. Some people claim that aspartame causes multiple sclerosis or brain tumors. (It doesn’t.) They claim that the FDA is corrupt for allowing aspartame to remain on the market. However, many of the people who are spreading these rumors are also selling dietary supplements and herbal products that are of no real value and may be unsafe. In reality, aspartame seems to be remarkably safe, unless you have phenylketonuria. But lots of ordinarily good foods, even human breast milk, are dangerous for people with phenylketonuria.
Photo by Steve Snodgrass
Mary Tyler Moore won fame and fortune because of her beauty and her skill as an actress. However, public health activists admire her most for her work as International Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Moore came down with “juvenile” diabetes at the age of 33. Thanks to insulin therapy, she was able to live with her “juvenile” diabetes until she was 80 years old. Moore’s case of diabetes can help you understand the difference between the two main types of diabetes mellitus. Mary Tyler Moore had type 1, which the French call diabète maigre, or thin diabetes. In contrast, Tom Hanks got type 2, which the French call diabète gras, or fat diabetes.
Each type of diabetes mellitus is a different disease, with its own set of causes and treatments. However, all types of diabetes mellitus have one important thing in common. If left untreated, they cause a sugar called glucose to build up to high levels in the bloodstream. When there is too much glucose in the blood, some of that glucose will start to leak out through the kidneys, taking water with it. As a result, the person will pass a lot of sugary urine. Because of the loss of water, the person will get thirsty. Because of the loss of sugar, which represents calories, the person will lose weight. For this reason, untreated diabetes mellitus produces the following classic signs: too much urine, heavy thirst, sugar in the urine, and weight loss.
By the 1870s, it was clear that at least two different diseases could produce this same set of signs. One of those diseases was severe and tended to strike in childhood. Its victims were usually thin to start with, and they would lose weight rapidly. For this reason, French doctors called it diabète maigre, which means thin diabetes. Within a few days to weeks after diagnosis, these patients would go into a coma and die. There was no cure and no effective treatment. The other form of diabetes mellitus was much milder, and it was curable. It tended to strike adults who were at least a little bit overweight. It would go away if they lost weight. For this reason, French doctors called it diabète gras, which means fat diabetes.
To this day, French doctors still talk about thin diabetes and fat diabetes. However, English-speaking doctors did not want to talk frankly about weight. Instead, they used the terms “juvenile” and “adult onset” diabetes instead. Yet “juvenile” diabetes can start at any age. Because of the epidemic of childhood obesity, we are now seeing more cases of “adult-onset” diabetes than “juvenile” diabetes in children.
In the 1920s, Canadian researchers proved that thin diabetes is due to the lack of a hormone, which they called insulin. Patients with thin diabetes will die unless they get insulin injections. In contrast, people with fat diabetes can survive without insulin therapy. For this reason, English-speaking doctors started talking about “insulin-dependent” and “non-insulin-dependent” diabetes. However, these names are confusing because many people with “non-insulin-dependent” diabetes are taking insulin.
To avoid this confusion, English-speaking doctors now talk about “type 1” and “type 2” diabetes. Yet these labels do not help you understand which type is which. For this reason, I urge people to say “thin diabetes” and “fat diabetes.”
Mary Tyler Moore had thin diabetes. Her pancreas could not make enough insulin to keep her alive. For this reason, she had to take insulin shots every day from the time she was 33 years old. In contrast, Tom Hanks got fat diabetes. It means that he is a naturally thin person who has been eating too much fat. To burn the excess fat instead of storing it, his body began to resist the effects of insulin. When he kept gaining weight anyway, his insulin resistance got so bad that his blood sugar went up. The hard way to solve this problem is to eat less and exercise more. The easy way to solve this problem is to cut out the fat and eat a high-carbohydrate diet. Unfortunately, many doctors tell their patients to avoid carbohydrates. As a result, the patients eat a fatty diet that makes the problem worse.
Thin diabetes is due to a shortage of insulin. Fat diabetes is due to resistance to insulin. You can have both problems at once. For this reason, people with any type of diabetes mellitus need to eat a high-carbohydrate diet. A low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet cures fat diabetes. It also gives people with thin diabetes the best chance for long-term survival.
Scientists have known since the 1930s that the more carbohydrate you eat, the more sensitive your body becomes to insulin. In the 1940s and 1950s, Dr. Walter Kempner of Duke University used to teach his diabetic patients to eat nothing but rice, fruit, and sugar. More than 90% of the calories from that diet came from carbohydrate (starch and sugar). Yet that high-carb diet caused his patients’ blood sugar to come down. The patients with fat diabetes recovered from their diabetes. The patients with thin diabetes needed to reduce their dosage of insulin. This diet was also good for the patient’s heart, eyes, and kidneys. Yet there is one word of warning. A high-carbohydrate diet is so effective against diabetes and high blood pressure that diabetic patients must talk to their doctor before making a change even to a healthy diet. Otherwise, they could end up in trouble from low blood pressure or low blood sugar.
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Every New Year’s Day, countless people with type 2 diabetes vow to lose weight by eating less carbohydrate. Yet as I explain in my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes, that approach is doomed to failure. If you want to lose weight and control your blood sugar, try a high-carb diet instead:
- Do not eat any food that came from animals (no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products)
- Do not eat any concentrated fats or oils, not even vegetable oils.
- Base your meals on some sort of starchy food, such as rice or potatoes.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and some fruit and some beans.
This kind of diet helps you lose weight without feeling hungry. It also reverses type 2 diabetes and helps improve blood sugar control and overall health in people with type 1 diabetes. (Anyone who is taking prescription drugs should talk to their doctor before starting this diet.)
The value of this kind of low-fat vegan diet was understood in Biblical times. The book of Daniel describes how Daniel and other Judean noblemen were being held captive in the royal court of Babylon. Like everyone else at court, they were expected to eat the rich food. However, this food was not Kosher. The meat and wine had been offered as sacrifices to the pagan gods. To avoid eating ritually impure foods, Daniel and his friends ate nothing but plant-based foods and water. When the overseer heard about this, he warned Daniel that the king had decided what they were supposed to eat. Daniel suggested that he and his friends be allowed to eat their vegan diet for 10 days, as an experiment. At the end of 10 days, Daniel and his friends looked so much better than the other youths, they were allowed to keep eating their plant-based diet.
Type 1 diabetes means that your pancreas cannot make enough insulin to keep you alive. French doctors called it thin diabetes (diabète maigre) because it caused the body to waste away rapidly. In contrast, if you have type 2 diabetes (French doctors call it diabète gras or fat diabetes), it means that you are a naturally thin person eating an unnaturally rich diet. You are eating too much fat and too little carbohydrate. As a result, the fats overfeed your fat cells before the carbs satisfy your appetite. If you are a naturally thin person, your body will start resisting the effects of insulin, to keep you from storing more fat. As a result, your blood sugar can be abnormally high even if your pancreas is making abnormally large amounts of insulin. The surprising solution to this problem with blood sugar is to eat more carbohydrate and less fat. The more carbohydrate and less fat you eat, the more sensitive your body becomes to insulin and the more stable your blood sugar becomes. I explain this in detail in my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2.
We now have scientific data on the effects that Daniel’s diet would have had. The McDougall Program is a 10-day live-in program that gives patients an all-you-can-eat buffet of low-fat, high-carbohydrate, purely plant-based (vegan) foods. The patients are told to eat until they feel full, and to eat a lot of starchy foods. The patients get a physical examination and bloodwork on day 1 and day 7. The results for 1615 patients who went through the program were reported in an article in Nutrition Journal. Half of the patients lost at least 3 pounds within 7 days, even though they could eat until they felt full. There were sharp decreases in blood pressure and blood sugar. Roughly 90% of the people who had been taking pills for blood pressure or blood sugar reduced their dosage or quit taking them altogether by the end of the 10-day program. Blood cholesterol also dropped sharply.
So if you want to lose weight and reverse your type 2 diabetes, you can make a simple New Year’s Resolution. Just switch to a low-fat, vegan diet. And be sure to eat plenty of starch!
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Recently, I saw that a friend of mine had posted on her refrigerator a simplified list of food exchanges for diabetics. She does not have diabetes, so I asked her why she would need a diabetic diet exchange list. She said that she wants to lose weight. I tried to explain that the exchange system is not a weight-loss plan. Its purpose is to help people with type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes) figure out how much insulin to inject. She said that she was using the list to help her count calories.
I tried to explain that counting calories is not an effective way to lose weight. She looked at me as if I’m nuts. She believes that she knows far more about dieting and weight control than I do. After all, she has been dieting for years because of her stubborn weight problem. She therefore has years of experience in counting calories and estimating portion sizes. She’ll diet and lose a few pounds, then gain them right back. I have no personal experience with dieting. Because I have eaten a low-fat, high-fiber, starchy diet all of my adult life, I have never been overweight. I just eat grains and beans and vegetables and fruit until I feel full.
The diabetic exchange system or diabetic exchange list is an approach to meal planning. It was introduced in 1950 by the American Diabetes Association and the U.S. Public Health Service. It has been revised several times since then. The purpose of the exchange system is to help people with type 1 diabetes estimate how much carbohydrate (sugar and starch) is in a meal. Once they know that, they supposedly can figure out how much insulin they will need to keep their blood sugar from going too high or too low after they eat the meal. The idea is that the more carbohydrate you eat, the more insulin you would need. But when diabetics switch to a high-carbohydrate diet, they typically have to reduce their insulin dosage. The more carbohydrate they eat, the more sensitive their body becomes to insulin.
Before the exchange system was introduced, people with type 1 diabetes often ended up eating a strict, boring diet. To keep their blood sugar stable, they often ate the same amount of the same foods day after day. The exchange system made it easy for them to add variety to their diet. For example, it tells them that a slice of bread has the same carbohydrate content as a 6-inch tortilla or a third of a cup of rice. In other words, the person with type 1 diabetes could exchange a slice of bread for the tortilla or the rice. Of course, nondiabetic people would not need to count carbs or worry about exchanging one carbohydrate source for another. Their pancreas automatically makes as much insulin as they need.
Some modern experts on diabetes do not recommend the exchange system, not even for diabetics. One problem with the diabetic exchange system is that it includes many foods that are not good for human beings in general and that are particularly bad for human beings with diabetes. For example, the exchange system includes lists of meats, dairy foods, eggs, and fish, as well as lists of fats and processed junk foods. Animal-source foods are fattening because they contain lots of fat but no fiber or starch. Animal-source foods also contain cholesterol. The fat and cholesterol can clog the arteries, leading to heart attacks and stroke, particularly in people with diabetes. Animal-source foods also contain way too much protein. An overload of protein is bad for the kidneys, which are already stressed by the diabetes. Heavily processed “junk” foods also contain too much fat or concentrated sugar and little or no fiber.
Another problem with the diabetic exchange system is that fat intake and exercise levels also affect insulin requirements. For this reason, Dr. John McDougall discourages his diabetic patients from using the exchange lists or counting carbs. Instead, he encourages them to eat a consistently high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, to boost their insulin sensitivity. Insulin doses are then based on their recent requirements and their activity levels. (Exercise is sometimes called the invisible insulin because it decreases blood sugar levels.)
Scientists have known since the 1920s that high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets are good for people with diabetes. Yes, starchy and sugary foods do deliver a lot of sugar (glucose) to the bloodstream. But a low-fat diet also makes the body much more sensitive to insulin, whether the insulin is being injected or being produced naturally by the pancreas.
In the 1940s, Dr. Walter Kempner of Duke University had astounding success in using a diet based on nothing but rice, fruit, and fruit juice for patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. When patients lost too much weight on that low-fat diet, Kempner told them to add some pure sugar to their diet. The patients who followed Kempner’s “rice diet” got better control of their blood sugar. The patients with type 2 diabetes became undiabetic. Even the patients with type 1 diabetes needed smaller doses of insulin. The patients’ overall health also improved. Their blood pressure came down. Their eyes, heart, kidneys, and feet were healthier.
The exchange lists might not be useful for people with type 1 diabetes. They are certainly not useful for promoting weight loss, not even for diabetics. My nondiabetic friend was using the diabetic exchanges as a way to count calories. Yet calorie counting and portion control do not work well for weight control, which is why my friend remains overweight despite her repeated attempts at dieting. The reason is simple: calorie counting and portion control are unnatural acts.
Wild animals never count calories. They never limit their portions. Nor do they ever sign up for step aerobics. Wild animals stay slim, even when they are surrounded on all sides by their favorite food, because they eat the kind of food that is right for their body. It has the right calorie density: the right number of calories per pound of food. If they need more calories, their appetite will naturally lead them to eat more food. Once they meet their need for calories, they stop feeling hungry. As a result, they eat just enough food to maintain a healthy weight.
If you are overweight, chances are that the problem is not your metabolism or a lack of will-power. You are simply eating foods that are too rich. Rich foods provide too many calories per pound of food. As a result, you may have to overeat to feel full. If you stop eating rich, fatty foods and instead base your diet on unrefined starches and vegetables, your appetite will be satisfied by a reasonable amount of food. As a result, your weight will normalize itself, even if you eat enough food to feel full.
Note: For more information about how insulin works, and how diet affects body weight and blood sugar levels, see my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2.
As I explain in my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2, There are two main type of sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus). If you have thin diabetes (type 1 diabetes mellitus), your pancreas cannot make enough insulin to keep you alive. If you have fat diabetes (type 2 diabetes mellitus), your body is resisting the effects of insulin, to keep you from storing more fat in your fat cells. You can have both problems at once. In other words, even people with insulin shortage can have some degree of insulin resistance.
The solution to insulin resistance has been known since the 1930s: eat a high-carb, low-fat diet. The more carbs you eat, the more sensitive your body becomes to insulin. The more fat you eat, the more resistant your body becomes to insulin. When people with type 1 diabetes start a high-carb diet (>75% of calories in the form of carbohydrate), they often have to decrease their insulin dosage by about 30%.
The word diabetes comes from the ancient Greek word for siphon. A siphon is a tube that is used to transfer water from one vessel to another. Ancient Greek physicians used the word diabetes to refer to any disease that makes you pee too much.
What is sugar diabetes?
Eventually, physicians realized that there was more than one kind of diabetes. You could tell them apart by tasting the urine. (Of course, nowadays we use laboratory tests instead of tasting the urine!) One kind of diabetes made the urine taste sweet, like honey. That kind of diabetes was called diabetes mellitus, which means honey diabetes.
What causes diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes)?
Doctors use the term diabetes mellitus to refer to a group of unrelated diseases that result from different causes. However, they all have one important thing in common. If left untreated, they cause a sugar called glucose to build up to high levels in the bloodstream. When the blood glucose level is very high, some of the glucose starts to pass out of the body through the kidneys. This glucose draws water along with it. As a result, the person passes a lot of sugary urine. Because they lose so much water, they get very thirsty. Since the sugar that they are losing represents calories, they tend to lose weight. That is why sugar diabetes produces four classic signs:
- Polyuria (lots of urine)
- Polydipsia (severe thirst)
- Glycosuria (sugar in the urine)
- Weight loss
What causes diabetes mellitus?
There are two main types of diabetes mellitus. Type 1 diabetes (the French call it diabète maigre, which means thin diabetes) results from the loss of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. If you have thin diabetes, it means that your pancreas can no longer make enough insulin to keep you alive. Type 2 diabetes (the French call it diabète gras, which means fat diabetes) means that your body is resisting the effects of the hormone insulin. If you have fat diabetes, it means that you are a naturally thin person. Your body is trying to prevent you from storing the fat that you have been eating. The solution to fat diabetes is to cut out the fat. You can reverse type 2 diabetes by eating less and exercising more. You can reverse it even more quickly by switching to a low-fat diet.
A person can have some degree of insulin shortage (thin diabetes) and insulin resistance (fat diabetes) at the same time. A slight degree of insulin resistance is normal during pregnancy. However, if added to the insulin resistance that represents a resistance to gaining too much weight, the normal insulin resistance of pregnancy can lead to gestational diabetes, which is a temporary case of fat diabetes during pregnancy. Diabetes mellitus is particularly dangerous during pregnancy. Any pregnancy in a woman with diabetes mellitus is a high-risk pregnancy.
Regardless of which type of diabetes mellitus you have, a high-carbohydrate diet is important to maintaining blood sugar control. The more carbohydrate you eat, the more sensitive your body becomes to insulin.
What is diabetes insipidus (water diabetes)?
The other kind of diabetes makes people pass urine that was so dilute that it has no flavor. It was called diabetes insipidus, which means flavorless diabetes. Water diabetes can result from several different causes.
What causes water diabetes?
The brain and kidney normally work together to control the water balance in the body. Thus, water diabetes generally results either from a problem in the brain or a problem in the kidney. When you become dehydrated, your brain is supposed to make a hormone called antidiuretic hormone, which helps you retain water. While you are dehydrated, your brain is supposed to make you feel thirsty, so that you will drink water. Several things can go wrong with this system of control:
- After a brain injury, the brain may not produce enough antidiuretic hormone. The solution to this problem is to take supplemental antidiuretic hormone.
- The brain’s thirst mechanism might be on even when you are not dehydrated. The solution to this problem is to restrict the person’s access to water.
- The kidney might not be responding normally to antidiuretic hormone. The solution to that problem is to treat the underlying cause.
- During pregnancy, the placenta makes an enzyme that breaks down antidiuretic hormone. As a result, women can get a temporary case of water diabetes during pregnancy. Water diabetes during pregnancy can be serious and can lead to the death of the mother or the baby.
In people with water diabetes, the main challenge is to control the balance of water and electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) in the body.
Back in 1927, an American physician named Shirley Sweeney recruited some healthy male medical students for a study of how diet affects blood sugar control. That study showed that you could make healthy young men seem diabetic by feeding them too much fat or too much protein or nothing at all for only two days.
Sweeney divided his volunteers into four groups. He asked the members of each group to eat a particular test diet for two days. One group ate mainly carbohydrates (starch and sugar). Another ate mainly protein. A third group ate mainly fats. The fourth group fasted for two days. On the morning of the third day, before the subjects had eaten or drunk anything else, they had a glucose tolerance test. They drank a beverage with a known amount of the sugar called glucose. Then, their blood sugar (blood glucose) levels were measured over the following few hours.
During the glucose tolerance test, the men who had been eating nothing but carbohydrates for two days had remarkably stable blood sugar levels. But the other men’s blood sugar levels spiked to abnormally high levels. The men who had been eating nothing but fat got results that suggested severe diabetes. Remember, these were healthy young men who had been eating an abnormal diet for only two days.
From these results, Sweeney concluded that a high-carbohydrate diet helps to improve the body’s ability to tolerate carbohydrates. In contrast, high-protein diets, high-fat diets, and fasting undermine the body’s ability to control blood sugar. In a follow-up article, Sweeney suggested that some patients might have abnormal glucose tolerance test results because of the diet that their doctors had been urging them to follow, rather than because of some underlying medical problem.
Sweeney was not the only researcher to show that high-fat diets cause problems with blood sugar control. In the 1930s, a British physician named Sir Harold Percival Himsworth did similar studies and got similar results.
Starting in the late 1930s, a German émigré physician named Walter Kempner started applying these lessons to the treatment of patients at Duke University. Kempner started off by trying to find a dietary solution to severely high blood pressure. Back then, no effective drugs were available to reduce blood pressure. Kempner reasoned that since heart and kidney disease were rare in societies that ate a rice-based diet, his patients should eat a rice-based diet.
Because his patients had kidney problems and atherosclerosis, Kempner designed a diet to be as low as possible in protein and fat. So he told his patients to eat nothing but rice, fruit, and fruit juice. If they lost too much weight on that low-fat diet, they were told to add some pure sugar. This diet produced dramatic improvements in patients with heart and kidney disease. It also did wonders for patients with diabetes.
Patients with what is now called type 2 diabetes, which is a complication of being overweight, lost weight and became undiabetic. Patients with type 1 diabetes, which results when the immune system destroys the pancreas’s ability to make insulin, had much better control of blood sugar levels and could get by on much smaller insulin doses. Even their eyes were healthier. (Diabetes is a major cause of blindness.)
The fact that high-carb diets are good for diabetics has been known since the 1920s. Nevertheless, many doctors in the United States are still urging their overweight and diabetic patients to avoid eating carbs. Unfortunately, a low-carb diet can make even a healthy young person look diabetic within a matter of days. Fortunately, a high-carb diet can cure the most common form of diabetes and can improve the health of people with the incurable form of diabetes.
Note: This article was originally posted on my Where Do Gorillas Get Their Protein? blog (www.gorillaprotein.com).