Since I started blogging, I’ve received various comments and e-mails from people all around the world.
Many have lost a lot of weight and improved a variety of health problems by adopting a low-carb, real-food based diet.
Some of them are (or should I say “used to be”?) type II diabetics that have been able to quit their medication after going low-carb.
I’ve seen such stories pop up all over the internet.
People who have completely reversed their disease with a low-carb, real-food based diet and exercise.
Many of them are now drug free and have normal blood sugars.
It turns out that there is a lot more to this issue than just anecdote.
There are quite a few studies proving that low-carb diets can prevent and even completely reverse type II diabetes.
Type II Diabetes and Carbs
When we eat carbohydrate rich foods such as pasta, bread or a banana, the carbs get broken down in the digestive tract to form glucose.
All carbs in the diet (except fructose), including the “complex carbs” and “heart-healthy” whole grains, get turned into glucose.
The glucose then travels into the bloodstream and has to be rapidly shuttled into the body’s cells because excess glucose in the blood is toxic.
Basically, most carbs you eat get turned into glucose, travel to the blood to become blood sugar, then need to be disposed of quickly.
To the rescue comes insulin. A hormone, who has the function of driving blood glucose into cells (among other things).
When you’re diabetic, you either don’t produce enough insulin or your body isn’t sensitive to its effects, called insulin resistance.
If you’re a diabetic and eat carbs, your blood sugars will go up quite a lot, even to the point of being dangerous. This can lead to various complications such as blindness, kidney failure, premature aging and death.
Diabetes currently afflicts about 300 million people worldwide and is increasingly being diagnosed in children and teenagers.
The current standard of care is to instruct diabetics to eat a high-carb diet which raises blood sugar, then give them lots of drugs to bring their blood sugar levels back down.
A solution that might seem obvious is to simply remove all those excess carbs from the diet and let the body produce the little that it needs (which it is perfectly capable of via a process called gluconeogenesis).
Then there’s no need to take drugs to keep blood sugar down and chances of suffering consequences like blindness and amputation decrease.
Basically: low carbs = low rise in blood sugar = no need for insulin or glucose lowering drugs.
Now let’s look at the evidence.
Can Low-Carb Diets Cure Type II Diabetes?
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003 assigned 132 severely obese individuals to either a low-carb or a low-fat diet. 39 percent of the individuals were diabetic.
The low-carb group lost three times as much weight and dropped their triglyceride levels five times as much as the low-fat group. The diabetic low-carb dieters significantly improved blood glucose, HbA1c and insulin levels, while the low-fat diet had a negligible effect (1).
In this study, the low-fat diet (which is the current standard of care) was next to useless for the diabetic patients.
A trial conducted in 2006 randomized 102 type II diabetic individuals to either a low-carb group or a low-fat group.
The low-carb group lost more weight and further improved all biomarkers of health (including HbA1c – a marker of blood glucose) although the difference was not statistically significant in all cases (2).
A study published in Nutrition & Metabolism in 2008 randomized 84 type II diabetic individuals to either a low-carb ketogenic diet or a low-glycemic, calorie restricted diet for 3 months.
The low-carb group lost more weight and improved HbA1c and HDL cholesterol further than the low-glycemic index diet. 95,2% of the low-carb group was able to reduce or eliminate their medication (3).
In a 16-week trial, 21 type II diabetics were put on a low-carb, ketogenic diet. They were able to discontinue medication in 7 patients and reduce them in 10 patients. HbA1c went down by 16%, body weight decreased by 6.6% (4).
In another study, 64 obese patients (half had elevated blood glucose) were placed on a low-carb, ketogenic diet for 56 weeks. They reduced body weight, body mass index, total and LDL cholesterol, blood sugar, and raised their HDL cholesterol (good) levels (5).
A cross-over trial with 13 patients randomized to either a paleolithic diet or a typical diabetes diet, showed that the paleo diet was superior on pretty much all measurements.
The paleolithic diet improved body weight, HbA1c, triglycerides, blood pressure, waist circumference and HDL cholesterol, more than the typical diabetes diet (6).
In a crossover study where 8 type II diabetics ate either a typical diabetes diet or a low-carbohydrate diet, the low-carb dieters drastically reduced blood glucose levels (7).
In yet another study, 10 obese patients with type II diabetes did a low-carb diet for 2 weeks. They automatically reduced calorie intake by 1.000 calories per day, lost weight and significantly improved HbA1c levels, cholesterol and triglycerides.
In as little as 2 weeks, their 24 hour profiles of blood glucose were normalized (8).
Type II diabetes is one of many manifestations of the metabolic syndrome and there are a lot of studies that clearly show the beneficial effects of low-carb diets for this disorder (9).
In fact, this is the main reason diabetics need to be careful with a low-carb diet and consult with their doctor. This diet can cause an immediate reduction in need for medication!
It seems to me that low-carb diets should be the standard of care for type II diabetes.
It just makes perfect sense given the biochemistry of glucose and insulin and there is a decent amount of evidence to back it up.
It seems so obvious that the idea of not prescribing a low-carb diet seems ridiculous.
The ones to profit from this are the health professionals who treat these patients and the drug industry. Certainly not the patients!
My honest opinion is that promoting a high-carb, low-fat diet to diabetics (in order to keep them sick and dependant on drugs) is a crime against humanity.