Book Review: The Blood Sugar Solution

A few months ago, I read The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Progam for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now!  Published in 2012, the author is Dr. Mark Hyman. I give it three stars per Amazon’s rating system (“It’s OK”).  Actually, I came close to giving it two stars, but was afraid the review would have been censored at the Amazon site.

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The book’s promotional blurbs by the likes of Dr. Oz, Dr. Dean Ornish, and Deepak Chopra predisposed me to dislike this book.  But it’s not as bad as I thought it’d be.

The good parts first.  Dr. Hyman favors the Mediterranean diet, strength training, and high-intensity interval training.  His recommended way of eating is an improvement over the standard American diet, improving prospects for health and longevity.  His dietary approach to insulin-resistant overweight/obesity and type 2 diabetes includes 1) avoidance of sugar, flour, processed foods, 2) preparation of your own meals from natural, whole food, and 3) keeping glycemic loads low.  All well and good for weight loss and blood sugar control.  It’s not a vegetarian diet.

The author proposes a new trade-marked medical condition: diabesity. It refers to insulin resistance in association with (usually) overweight, obesity, and/or type 2 diabetes mellitus.  Dr. Hyman says half of Americans have this brand-new disorder, and he has the cure.  If you don’t have overt diabetes or prediabetes, you’ll have to get your insulin levels measured to see if you have diabesity.

He reiterates many current politically correct fads, such as grass-fed/pastured beef, organic food, detoxification, and strict avoidance of all man-made chemicals, notwithstanding the relative lack of scientific evidence supporting many of these positions.

Dr. Hyman bills himself as a scientist, but his biography in the book doesn’t support that label.  Shoot, I’ve got a degree in zoology, but I’m a practicing physician, not a scientist.

The author thinks there are only six causes of all disease: single-gene genetic disorders, poor diet, chonic stress, microbes, toxins, and allergens.  Hmmm… None of those explain hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosis, tinnitus, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinsons disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, or multiple sclerosis, to name a few that don’t fit his paradigm.

Dr. Hyman makes a number of claims that are just plain wrong.  Here are some:
– Over 80% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D
– Lack of fiber contributes to cancer
– High C-reactive protein (in blood) is linked to a 1,700% increased probability of developing diabetes
– Processed, factory-made foods have no nutrients
– We must take nutritional supplements

Furthermore, he recommends a minimum of 11 and perhaps as many as 16 different supplements even though the supportive science is weak or nonexistent.  Is he selling supplements?  You betcha!

After easily finding these bloopers, I started questioning many other of the author’s statements.

I was very troubled by the apparent lack of warning about hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).  Many folks with diabetes will be reading this book.  They could experience hypoglycemia on this diet if they’re taking certain diabetes drugs: insulin, sulfonylureas, meglitinides, pramlintide plus insulin, exenatide plus sulfonylurea, and possibly thiazolidinediones, to name a few instances.

If you don’t have diabetes but do need to lose weight, this book may help.  If you have diabetes, strongly consider an alternative such as Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution or my Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll not comment on Dr. Hyman’s substitution of time-tested science-based medicine with his own “Functional Medicine.”

Steve Parker, M.D.

9 responses to “Book Review: The Blood Sugar Solution

  1. Thanks for the honest review. A couple of things that spring to mind is, firstly, that I read the term ‘diabesity’ first on Chris Kresser’s website – so difficult to say who coined the term first.

    Secondly, my understanding of the point of eating grass-fed/pastured beef was to combat the omega 3:omega 6 fats out of balance ratio, as grain fed meet is more likely to push it in the a more inflammatory direction. Also, along those lines, is there not growing evidence that many anutomimune disorders are overall the result of systemic inflammation? I would be interested to hear more of a medic’s view on this.

    • JD09, that’s interesting about Kresser. I seem to recall reading a diabesity article by Dr. Hyman at the Huffington post around two years ago. My understanding is that Hyman has the term trademarked at the U.S Trade and Patent office, which costs about $375 (USD), not counting legal fees that may be involved. It may not matter who coined it. I guess I’d be a bit upset if I made it up then someone else “stole” it from me. I could see several people coming up with the term independently.

      Yes, you’re right about the grass-fed selling point. We’ll never have hard clinical endpoints (e.g., altered mortality, heart attack and cancer rates) for grass-fed versus standard feedlot beef. I’ve got several thick science journal articles in my briefcase by Dr. Lands, regarding omega-6/omega-3 ratio and effects on health and inflammation. One of these days…. Most doctors in the clinical care aren’t even looking at that yet. I reserve my judgment until later.


  2. I just purchased this book, and I’m about half way through. I skipped ahead to look at the recipes and supplment list, and I’d have to be a billionare to afford this regime. I’m taking the good from what I get from this book and leaving the rest. I have lost 7 lbs in 3 weeks, so it’s not a total waste.

    • Tracy, I appreciate your input! Congrats on the weight loss. My understanding is that Dr. Hyman’s website invites you to fill out some forms, then spits out supplement recommendations.


  3. “…many anutomimune disorders are overall the result of systemic inflammation?”

    Yes and no. Inflammation is one of those buzzwords that has taken on so many meanings that it’s lost its utility. Are autoimmune disorders the result of inflammation? Absolutely. There is inflammation all over the thyroid gland of patients with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. And? What type of inflammatory response are we talking? Because there are HUNDREDS of known pathways and inevitably many, many more that we’re not aware of.

    It also presupposes that inflammation is one thing. It’s an interaction between thousands of environmental triggers and thousands of genes and gene regulators. It’s a highly complex situation. And some inflammation is good. Without it, one is susceptible to not only infections but impaired healing. Inflammation is the essential first step to healing a cut.

    So can one lower inflammation through diet? Possibly. Does it mean it’ll
    “cure” one’s autoimmune disease? Color me skeptical. It may help but it’s more complex than just one single causative factor which is what I think the doc is critical of above.

    • Thanks for that explanation, vanslix.

      Dr. John Mandrola, cardiologist, is convinced that coronary artery disease is an inflammatory disorder within the arteries. That’s the prevailing theory among cardiologists now. But what’s the cause of the inflammation? It is almost certainly multifactorial, as vanslix suggests. Diet probably plays a role. For example, the Mediterranean diet is linked to lower rates of heart disease and has also been shown to reduce common circulating inflammatory markers. Other factors include genetics, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, oxidized LDL cholesterol, to name a few. Perhaps even infection.


  4. Thanks for your comments! I think I have something down-pat and then the body goes and gets more complex. I’m a mental health professional working with people with long-term conditions and more and more I find myself wanting to explore dietary and exercise interventions in a desire to get to the root cause of my clients’ miseries but, of course, cognitive behavioural therapy is all I can use for now. I’d like to add some proper physical health knowledge training to my bow when I have the time and money in the future. In the meantime I’ll keep reading and reflecting and testing my knowledge 🙂

    I didn’t know about Hyman’s patent – there may well have been a reference in Chris’ article that I likely would have missed if I was skim-reading.

    Enjoying you blog.

  5. *your blog of course.