A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that more than 100 million adults in the U.S. are now living with diabetes or prediabetes. Counted among those ranks are 30.3 million Americans (9.4 percent of the population) who have diabetes, and another 84.1 million (26 percent of the population) who have prediabetes — a condition, if it goes untreated, typically leads to type 2 diabetes within five years.

Read National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017 — Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States by clicking on the link here. Please note: Clicking on the aforementioned link will automatically download a PDF file.

To put those statistics into perspective, in 2015, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. By any measure, diabetes qualifies as a serious epidemic. What’s so tragic is that this epidemic is mostly preventable through changes to diet and activity levels.

The silver lining in this cloud is that pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes can be reversed. The problem is, it’s not being reversed.

Photo: ©2017 Kate Fern on Unsplash.com

Most of those affected who seek treatment from doctors who practice conventional medicine, continue to get worse, develop a growing list of health problems, and take more and more medication in an attempt to maintain healthy blood glucose levels and treat the many other conditions associated with their diabetes and with the medications they are taking.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which the body’s ability to produce the hormone insulin or respond to the insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates (including sugar) and elevated levels of glucose in the blood. Normally, your pancreas releases insulin to help your body store and use the sugar and fat from the food you eat.

You commonly hear about two forms of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and kills the beta cells of the pancreas. Little or no insulin is released, which results in sugar building up in the blood instead of being used as energy. Treatment always requires insulin supplementation.
  • Type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance) occurs when the body does not use insulin properly. In response, the pancreas pumps out more insulin than normal, but over time it loses its ability to do so and eventually cannot produce enough insulin to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

Compounding the problem is that patients with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes think they are doing just fine as long as the labs say so or the endocrinologist tells them so. Unfortunately, a storm of underlying problems is brewing beneath the surface, which medications merely conceal.

As a result, pre-diabetics and diabetics suffer disproportionately with arteriosclerosis, fatty liver, dementia, and cancer. So, while blood glucose levels may look good on paper, all of these other chronic conditions continue to progress.

Type 2 Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes Symptoms

People with type 2 diabetes are all too familiar with the symptoms:

  • Overwhelming exhaustion
  • Sugar highs and lows
  • Pain and tingling in the limbs
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination, bladder infections, loose stools, and swelling

Type 2 diabetes damages arteries and can initiate dementia and promote cancer growth.

Pre-diabetics have similar symptoms of fatigue, restless sleep, pain, swelling, tingling, and rapid weight gain. However, they are frequently not made aware by the doctor as to how to resolve these symptoms.

Type 2 Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes Diagnosis

Diabetes is diagnosed with a simple blood test, but it’s important to realize that diabetes takes up to twenty years to develop. So, what’s happening in the first nineteen years? Not much that you can see, but a great deal of physical destruction you can’t see.

Research shows that the first step in developing diabetes is the development of insulin resistance, which happens largely due to the consumption of high carbohydrate foods and fructose-laden beverages. Sedentary lifestyles are a contributing factor.

Symptoms of insulin resistance include the following:

  • Fatigue after meals
  • Unsatisfied craving for sugar even after eating
  • Lightheadedness between meals
  • Weight gain around the hips and abdomen
  • Uncontrolled appetite

The following blood markers help to confirm the presence of insulin resistance:

  • Hemoglobin A1c over 5.7
  • High cholesterol LDL
  • Low HDL
  • Low Vitamin D
  • High triglycerides
  • Elevated fasting insulin

It’s not necessary to have all the lab markers or symptoms. Just a few can provide ample evidence that diabetes physiology is in place, and it’s only a matter of time before a diagnosis is “surprisingly” found. Medication for cholesterol or high blood pressure does not reduce the risk and is a good indication that in fact you have insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome — a cluster of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abdominal fat that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

If your Hemoglobin A1C is above 6.5, you are diabetic. Hemoglobin A1C is a reliable marker for the amount of sugar attaching to your red blood cells over a 90-day period. It’s a direct reflection of your average blood sugar level.

Conventional Treatment

In the current conventional healthcare system, a meeting with your endocrinologist or primary care physician is fairly typical. The treatment is standardized to deliver medications for lowering blood sugar, followed by brief advice regarding weight loss and change in diet.

For the majority of patients, this treatment fails as blood sugar continues to rise and lifestyle changes fail to impact weight loss as expected. Metformin, the most widely prescribed diabetes medication, will have a modest impact on weight loss of 2.5kg (about five and a half pounds) over a ten-year follow-up period as compared to weight loss among those taking a placebo.

You don’t have to be a physician to know that those are weak results. However, the American Diabetes Association touts Metformin as a good therapy for weight loss and for preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes, citing the study of a five-pound weight loss.

When I treat a patient with diabetes I am not looking for five pounds of weight loss. I am looking for 10, 20, 30, and up to 100 pounds of weight loss.

Next, the endocrinologist will prescribe additional blood sugar lowering prescriptions. I think the main challenge patients have in dealing with various doctors is that the doctors really believe in the medication and ignore the nasty side effects, such as increasing cancer rates in those taking diabetic medications.

The main issue here is that patients not only fail to lose weight on anti-diabetic medications, but the medications cause more problems with the liver and digestive system, resulting in weight loss resistance and sometimes further weight gain. The only way we are successful long-term with diabetic patients who are on more than Metformin is to work with their physician to reduce medication. Then we see lowering of blood sugar and weight. I know this sounds crazy, because it contradicts the current therapy by many well-respected physicians. However, this is clearly what I have seen in my practice.

A More Effective Approach: Functional Medicine

With diabetes, causes are varied. We are now learning that diabetes type 2 can be an autoimmune response brought on by poor diet, stress, infection, and toxicity. In fact, studies show that those with high levels of BPA in their urine were more likely to have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

My goal with patients for treating diabetes is to see the A1C lowered below 5.8 not just below 7.0, which is the target of many doctors who practice conventional medicine. (The A1C test measures the glucose, sugar, in your blood by looking at the amount of glycated hemoglobin.) In fact, research continues to show that an A1C over 5.8 increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.

The treatment involves making adjustments to your diet with the goal of understanding which foods you are reacting to that increase blood sugar. Some people have dairy allergies that raise blood sugar, others may have

been eating too much fat or carbs. All of this needs to be carefully assessed. Beyond diet, mineral deficiencies, gut abnormalities, and chronic recurring infection are addressed on an individual basis.

When the combination of diet and exercise is failing, it’s usually because it is not being done properly or adequately. Without proper supervision and guidance, patients are stuck in a vicious cycle with minimal to no results.

As with most functional medicine treatments, the individual treatments are tailored to the specific case at hand. I personally believe that diabetes is one of the worst-case scenarios for patients for several reasons:

  • It’s often silent.
  • It leads to heart disease.
  • It leads to cancer.

So, it’s the trifecta of all the things we don’t want. However, it’s also a very rewarding part of my practice because it can be managed in such a way to minimize harm and restore quality of life, avoiding ineffective and excessive prescription medications. The sooner we start to manage blood sugar, the better. I advise everyone to be screened by having a fasting insulin and A1C. These markers are your most accurate initial markers. I would look for fasting insulin under 7 and A1C under 5.0. Otherwise, you could be at risk for diabetes, especially if you have an increased waist-to-hip ratio, fatigue, elevated blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

Remember: Having a family history of type 2 diabetes does not mean you are destined to develop it. While genetics can influence the susceptibility to developing type 2 diabetes, how you nurture your nature can significantly improve your chances of not developing it.

If you already have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, the good news is that it’s reversible.

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About the Author: Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., CFMP®, specializes in diagnosing and treating the underlying causes of the symptoms related to chronic and unexplained illness through nutrition, lifestyle, chiropractic, and other natural approaches to whole-health healing in Tampa, Florida. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Shenandoah University, his Doctorate in Chiropractic from Life University, his CFMP® from Functional Medicine University, and his certification as a Digestive Health Specialist (DHS) through the Food Enzyme Institute. Dr. Lewis’ passion for health and wellness stems from his own personal experience. With a family history of autoimmune conditions and diabetes, and his own lab tests showing his genetic susceptibility to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune thyroid), he has learned how to restore his own health and vigor to prevent the onset of these and other illnesses and live an incredibly active life. Through this process, he acquired a deeper understanding of health and wellness, which he now offers his patients in Tampa.