By: Ron Rosedale
Diabetes is not a disease of blood sugar. It is a disease of insulin and, perhaps more importantly, leptin signaling. Until that truth is accepted, we will continue to see epidemic growth in type 2 diabetes and obesity, growth that underscores the inadequacy of current conventional medical treatment and the falsity of prevailing nutritional advice.
Elevated blood sugar is merely the symptom of diabetes, not its cause. The disease itself is one of metabolic miscommunication. Symptoms are manifestations of the way our body deals with a disease. For instance, a runny nose is a symptom, designed to cleanse the nose and sinuses of viruses and bacteria when one has a “cold.” Taking a decongestant, because it inhibits the body’s mechanism for dealing with the underlying disease, actually prolongs the infection.
Similarly, diabetes treatments that lower blood sugar by raising insulin levels actually worsen, rather than remedy, the underlying problem of metabolic miscommunication. Such a program just trades one evil for another. Elevated insulin levels are highly associated with and even causative of heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes itself, and many other so-called diseases.
Know Thine Enemy
When it comes to diabetes, traditional medicine does not appear to know its real enemy. For two millennia, diabetes has been considered to be a disease of high blood sugar. Despite centuries of scientific progress, including the discovery of insulin and, more recently, leptin, that myth still prevails. The actual purpose of insulin is widely misunderstood even in the medical community.
The Main Purpose Of Insulin Is Not To Lower Blood Sugar
It may surprise both you and your doctor that insulin’s main role is not to control blood sugar. The control of blood sugar is mostly in an upward, not a downward, direction. A few types of tissues and cells in our body, such as red blood cells, require glucose for energy. The rest, including our brain cells, prefer to burn either fat or byproducts of fat metabolism called ketones.
It is important, however, to always have a little bit of glucose dissolved in our blood. Because very little sugar was available throughout our evolutionary history, the goal was always to keep the sugar in our blood from falling too low.
Most starches and grains that turn into sugar are indigestible unless cooked, so the major source of sugar was fruit. That was available only seasonally, and even then we had to work to obtain it, thereby burning the sugar and preventing it from spiking very high. The hormones cortisone, epinephrine, norepinephrine, glucagon, and human growth hormone all raise glucose. These redundant mechanisms are in place to ensure that we always have some glucose available to the tissues that need it. Only insulin lowers glucose.
High Blood Sugar Was Rare
When our blood sugar did become elevated, it was a sign that we had more energy available than we could currently burn and that it would be a good idea to store the extra. Food was not always available: feast or famine was the rule for our ancestors. When blood sugar becomes elevated, it is a signal for insulin to be released so that it can direct the extra energy into storage.
A small amount of energy is stored as a starch called glycogen, but the majority is stored as our main energy supply—fat. Thus, insulin’s major role is not to lower sugar, but to take extra energy when available and store it for future times of need. Insulin lowers glucose as a side effect of directing that extra into storage.
Insulin’s purpose, however, may go far beyond that. It has been found that when insulin is kept low, either through diet or via genetic manipulation, animals live much longer and their rate of aging is significantly reduced. This is true in many different species of animals, from single cell yeasts to worms and flies, and studies show that it is likely to be true in primates as well.
Low insulin is a signal that energy is scarce and that animals need to focus on maintaining and repairing their cells, so that they can outlive the famine and be healthy enough to reproduce at some future, more opportune time. Low insulin actually regulates the rate of aging and reduces the major symptoms of aging – diabetes, heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, dementia, and even cancer. In short, low insulin is very healthy for you.
In healthy people, levels of insulin are largely determined by glucose (and amino acid from protein) levels. In insulin – using diabetics, however, insulin levels are also determined by how much insulin they are taking. Many have been told that what they eat does not matter as long as they take enough insulin to cover it. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Consider two people of similar size with type 2 diabetes who have equivalent blood sugar levels but are taking different amounts of insulin. The person taking higher amounts of insulin will likely age faster and accumulate the “diseases” associated with aging, such as heart disease and obesity. Even their diabetes itself will worsen.
Yes, that person’s diabetes will get worse. Why? Because most cases of type 2 diabetes are caused by overexposure to insulin. Just as you can no longer smell the odor in a smelly room after having been there for awhile, your cells become unable to “smell” the essential messages from insulin (and leptin) after they have been exposed to high levels of these hormones. This is called insulin resistance. Your body responds to this failure to “smell” insulin’s signals either by producing higher levels of insulin and leptin or by requiring more to be injected to get the message across, contributing to a vicious cycle.
Most treatments for type 2 diabetes involve drugs that raise insulin or utilize actual injections of insulin itself. (The treatment of type 1 diabetes also generally requires excessive quantities of insulin.) The tragic result is that this conventional medical treatment for diabetes contributes to the complications and the shortened lifespan that diabetics experience. The real reason for poor outcomes in the diabetic population is not that diabetics need more education in proper therapy, as is often suggested in published reports. Rather, the major problem lies in what is being taught – that’s what needs to be changed.
If you have lost the ability to smell a room, the best way to smell it again is not to make the smell stronger, which is analogous to taking or making more insulin. The best strategy is to walk out of the room and thereby re-sensitize your nose. Then, when you walk back in, you can smell the odor well again. This is how diabetes needs to be treated. We need to reduce, not increase, the levels of insulin, so that your cells can “smell” it better. The only way to do that is to get “more bang out of each insulin buck” by increasing insulin sensitivity. Contrary to what you have been told, there are no insulin-sensitizing drugs. Only changing your diet can re-sensitize you to insulin. Fortunately, diet works well enough to reverse most cases of type 2 diabetes, often completely.
The Role of Leptin
Diabetes is a disease of insulin miscommunication. Recognizing insulin’s true purpose goes to the root of diabetes and other chronic diseases. Yet we can go even deeper. Insulin may not even be the most important hormone in diabetes or other chronic diseases of aging.
That honor may go to leptin. It appears that leptin, a recently discovered hormone produced by fat, is largely responsible for the accuracy of insulin signaling and whether one becomes insulin resistant (type 2) or not.
Leptin tells the body and brain how much energy it has stored in fat, whether it needs more (by saying “be hungry, make more fat”), whether it should get rid of some (by saying “stop being hungry”), and, importantly, what to do with the energy it has (reproduce or focus on repair of the body). It is largely leptin that dictates how much fat you store, especially in your midsection where it is so dangerous. How well leptin is heard is what sets your so-called “set point” of (fat) weight.
Recent compelling research reveals that two organs primarily determine whether you become a type 2 diabetic or not: the liver and the brain. It is their ability to listen to leptin that determines this. Leptin largely influences, if not controls, the manifest functions of the hypothalamus in the brain, including appetite, reproduction, thyroid function, adrenal function, and the sympathetic nervous system.
Fat, and leptin, strongly influence chronic inflammation and, therefore, the diseases associated with it, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. It appears now that rather than your brain being in control of your body, your fat, by way of leptin, is really in the driver’s seat.
The Real Enemy Is Unrecognized By The Medical Community
By some estimates, diabetes has increased five to seven hundred percent in the past fifty years. Given that the increase occurred within the same generation, among people with essentially the same genetics, this statistic reveals that diabetes cannot be primarily a genetic disease. Something that we have been doing is obviously wrong and needs to be changed. That something is diet.
For the past fifty years, Americans have followed (at least partially), the high complex carbohydrate, low saturated fat diet recommended by the American Dietetic, Heart, and Diabetes Associations. (The term “complex carbohydrate, low fat” is an oxymoron: most of those “complex” carbohydrates, such as potatoes, rice, cereals, pasta, and breads, rapidly turn to sugar. That excess sugar (glucose) then rapidly turns into long-chain saturated fatty acids—palmitic acid, or “palm oil.” ) Concomitant with those dietary recommendations, diabetes and obesity have skyrocketed to become one of the worst epidemics the world has ever seen. Eating a high “complex” carbohydrate, low saturated fat diet for health and longevity has been shown to be wrong. Minimal common sense would say to try something else.
Diabetes Is A Disease Of Nutrition
We must eat a diet that maximizes the accuracy of insulin and leptin signaling, allowing cells to better listen to their life-giving messages. The need for those hormones to “yell” to be heard must be reduced, so that the levels of insulin and leptin become lowered.
What we need is a diet emphasizing good fats, reduced non-fiber carbohydrates and starches, and moderate, not high, protein. Such a diet will greatly improve and even completely reverse type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, many other chronic diseases of aging, and perhaps even aging itself. Many of my patients have been able to totally eliminate their use of drugs, including insulin. Following those guidelines will let you, and your genes, be the best that you can be.
“The Rosedale Diet,” published by HarperCollins, is the first book to associate the new biology of aging, insulin, and leptin with dietary changes to treat and even reverse the chronic diseases of aging, including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Dr. Rosedale has partnered with a researcher at the University of Colorado to form a diagnostic laboratory to accurately measure critical parameters of metabolism, including leptin and insulin, to research new measurable genetic regulators of aging, and to bridge the gap between current scientific knowledge and clinical application of that knowledge. His website is http://advancedmetaboliclabs.com/