Tag Archives: type 1 diabetes

The Case for Carbohydrate Restriction In Diabetes

MB900402413In 1797, Dr. John Rollo (a surgeon in the British Royal Artillery) published a book entitled An Account of Two Cases of the Diabetes Mellitus. He discussed his experience treating a diabetic Army officer, Captain Meredith, with a high-fat, high-meat, low-carbohydrate diet. Mind you, this was an era devoid of effective drug therapies for diabetes.

The soldier apparently had type 2 diabetes rather than type 1.

Rollo’s diet led to loss of excess weight (original weight 232 pounds or 105 kg), elimination of symptoms such as frequent urination, and reversal of elevated blood and urine sugars.

This makes Dr. Rollo the original low-carb diabetic diet doctor. Many of the leading proponents of low-carb eating over the last two centuries—whether for diabetes or weight loss—have been physicians.

But is carbohydrate restriction a reasonable approach to diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2?

What’s the Basic Problem in Diabetes?

Diabetes and prediabetes always involve impaired carbohydrate metabolism: ingested carbs are not handled by the body in a healthy fashion, leading to high blood sugars and, eventually, poisonous complications.  In type 1 diabetes, the cause is a lack of insulin from the pancreas.  In type 2, the problem is usually a combination of insulin resistance and ineffective insulin production.

Elevated blood pressure is one component of metabolic syndrome

Elevated blood pressure is one component of metabolic syndrome

A cousin of type 2 diabetes is “metabolic syndrome.”  It’s a constellation of clinical factors that are associated with increased future risk of type 2 diabetes and atherosclerotic complications such as heart attack and stroke. One in six Americans has metabolic syndrome. Diagnosis requires at least three of the following five conditions:

■  high blood pressure (130/85 or higher, or using a high blood pressure medication)

■  low HDL cholesterol:  under 40 mg/dl (1.03 mmol/l) in a man, under 50 mg/dl (1.28 mmol/l) in a women (or either sex taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)

■  triglycerides over 150 mg/dl (1.70 mmol/l) (or taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)

■  abdominal fat:  waist circumference 40 inches (102 cm) or greater in a man, 35 inches (89 cm) or greater in a woman

■  fasting blood glucose over 100 mg/dl (5.55 mmol/l)

Metabolic syndrome and simple obesity often involve impaired carbohydrate metabolism. Over time, excessive carbohydrate consumption can turn obesity and metabolic syndrome into prediabetes, then type 2 diabetes.

Carbohydrate restriction directly addresses impaired carbohydrate metabolism naturally.

Carbohydrate Intolerance

Diabetics and prediabetics—plus many folks with metabolic syndrome—must remember that their bodies do not, and cannot, handle dietary carbohydrates in a normal, healthy fashion. In a way, carbs are toxic to them. Toxicity may lead to amputations, blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, poor circulation, frequent infections, premature heart attacks and death, among other things.

Diabetics and prediabetics simply don’t tolerate carbs in the diet like other people. If you don’t tolerate something, you have to give it up, or at least cut way back on it. Lactose-intolerant individuals give up milk and other lactose sources. Celiac disease patients don’t tolerate gluten, so they give up wheat and other sources of gluten. One of every five high blood pressure patients can’t handle normal levels of salt in the diet; they have to cut back or their pressure’s too high. Patients with phenylketonuria don’t tolerate phenylalanine and have to restrict foods that contain it. If you’re allergic to penicillin, you have to give it up. If you don’t tolerate carbs, you have to give them up or cut way back. I’m sorry.

Carbohydrate restriction directly addresses impaired carbohydrate metabolism naturally.

But Doc, …?

1.  Why not just take more drugs to keep my blood sugars under control while eating all the carbs I want?

We have 11 classes of drugs to treat diabetes.  For most of these classes, we have little or no idea of the long-term consequences.  It’s a crap shoot.  The exceptions are insulin and metformin.  Several big-selling drugs have been taken off the market due to unforeseen side effects.  Others are sure to follow, but I can’t tell you which ones.  Adjusting insulin dose based on meal-time carb counting is popular.  Unfortunately, carb counts are not nearly as accurate as you might think; and the larger the carb amount, the larger the carb-counting and drug-dosing errors.

2.  If I reduce my carb consumption, won’t I be missing out on healthful nutrients from fruits and vegetables?

No.  Choosing low-carb fruits and vegetables will get you all the plant-based nutrients you need.  You may well end up eating more veggies and fruits than before you switched to low-carb eating.  Low-carb and paleo-style diets are unjustifiably criticized across-the-board as being meat-centric and deficient in plants.  Some are, but that’s not necessarily the case.

3.  Aren’t vegetarian and vegan diets just as good?

Maybe.  There’s some evidence that they’re better than standard diabetic diets.  My personal patients are rarely interested in vegetarian or vegan diets, so I’ve not studied them in much detail.  They tend to be rich in carbohydrates, so you may run into the drug and carb-counting issues in Question No. 1.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS:  The American Diabetes Association recommends weight loss for all overweight diabetics. Its 2011 guidelines suggest three possible diets: “For weight loss, either low-carbohydrate [under 130 g/day], low-fat calorie-restricted, or Mediterranean diets may be effective in the short-term (up to two years).”  The average American adult eats 250–300 grams of carbohydrate daily.

Aggressive Blood Sugar Control Prevents or Delays Neuropathy in Type 1 Diabetes

I couldn’t find a “neuropathy” picture so enjoy this

Aggressive efforts to control blood sugar either prevent or delay clinical neuropathy in patients with type 1 diabetes, according to the Cochrane Collaboraton as reported in MedPage Today.  Type 2 diabetics showed a strong trend in the same direction, but did not quite reach statistical significance (p=0.06, which is darn close to significant).  Be aware, however, that tight control of diabetes is often at the cost of more frequent episodes of hypoglycemia.

Intensive blood sugar control is also a treatment for established neuropathy.

One in ten diabetics has neuropathy at the time of diagnosis.  After 10 years, four or five of every 10 have it.  The pain of neuropathy is worse than the numbness.

The medical community is still debating how aggressively blood sugars should be managed.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: I don’t know what the Cochrane reviewers consider “tight control” because the article is behind a paywall, and the MedPage Today article didn’t address that either.

Reference: Callaghan BC, et al “Enhanced glucose control for preventing and treating diabetic neuropathy” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD007543.pub2.

What’s Diabulimia?

MedPage Today has a brief article on “diabulimia,” a disorder in type 1 diabetics who withhold insulin in order to lose weight.

After following the women for 11 years, the researchers found that those who restricted insulin had increased rates of diabetes complications, shortened lifespan, and increased mortality risk.

Factors that were associated with insulin restriction included greater eating disorder symptoms, diabetes-specific distress, overall psychological symptoms, and fear of hypoglycemia at baseline.

Diabulimics believe the theory that insulin is a major fat-storage hormone.  Furthermore, the high blood sugar levels resulting from inadequate insulin dosing lead to loss of calories (sugar) via urine.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Random Thoughts On Paleo Eating For People With Diabetes

Not really pertinent, but I like buffalo

I was interviewed  yesterday by Amy Stockwell Mercer, author of Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes.  All I knew beforehand was that she was interested in my thoughts on the paleo diet as applied to diabetes.

In preparation, I collected some random thoughts and did a little research.

What’s the paleo diet?

Fresh, minimally processed food.  Meat (lean or not? supermarket vs yuppiefied?), poultry, eggs, fish, leafy greens and other vegetables, nuts, berries, fruit, and probably tubers.

Non-paleo: highly processed, grains, refined sugars, industrial plant/seed oils, legumes, milk, cheese, yogurt, salt, alcohol.

Is the paleo diet deficient in any nutrients?

A quick scan of Loren Cordain’s website found mention of possible calcium and vitamin D deficits.  Paleoistas will get vitamin D via sun exposure and fish (especially cold-water fatty fish).  Obtain calcium from broccoli, kale, sardines, almonds, collards.  (I wonder if the Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium is set too high.)

What About Carbohydrates and Diabetes and the Paleo Diet?

Diabetes is a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism.  In a way, it’s an intolerance of carbohydrates.  In type 1 diabetes, there’s a total or near-total lack of insulin production on an autoimmune basis.  In type 2 diabetes, the body’s insulin just isn’t working adequately; insulin production can be high, normal or low.  In both cases, ingested carbohydrates can’t be processed in a normal healthy way, so they stack up in the bloodstream as high blood sugars.  If not addressed adequately, high blood glucose levels sooner or later will poison body tissues .  Sooner in type 1, later in type 2.  (Yes, this is a gross over-simplification.) 

Gluten-rich Neolithic food

If you’re intolerant of lactose or gluten, you avoid those.  If you’re intolerant of carbohydrates, you could avoid eating them, or take drugs to help you overcome your intolerance.  Type 1 diabetics must take insulin.  Insulin’s more optional for type 2’s.  We have 11 classes of drugs to treat type 2 diabetes; we don’t know the potential adverse effects of most of these drugs.  Already, three diabetes drugs have been taken off the U.S. market or severely restricted due to unacceptable toxicity: phenformin, troglitazone, and rosiglitazone. 

Humans need two “essential fatty acids” and nine “essential” amino acids derived from proteins.  “Essential” means we can’t be healthy and live long without them.   Our bodies can’t synthesize them.  On the other hand, there are no essential carbohydrates.  Our bodies can make all the carbohydrate (mainly glucose) we need.

Since there are no essential carbohydrates, and we know little about the long-term adverse side effects of many of the diabetes drugs, I favor carbohydrate restriction for people with carbohydrate intolerance.  (To be clear, insulin is safe, indeed life-saving, for those with type 1 diabetes.)

That being said, let’s think about the Standard American Diet (SAD) eaten by an adult.  It provides an average of 2673 calories a day (not accounting for wastage of calories in restaurants; 2250 cals/day is probably a more accurate figure for actual consumption).  Added sugars provide 459 of those calories, or 17% of the total.  Grains provide 625 calories, or 23% of the total.  Most of those sugars and grains are in processed, commercial foods.  So added sugars and grains provide 40% of the total calories in the SAD.  Remember, we need good insulin action to process these carbs, which is a problem for diabetics.  (Figures are from an April 5, 2011, infographic at Civil Eats.)

Anyone going from the SAD to pure Paleo eating will be drastically reducing intake of added sugars and grains, our current major sources of carbohydrate.  Question is, what will they replace those calories with? 

That’s why I gave a thumbnail sketch of the paleo diet above. Take a gander and you’ll see lots of low-carb and no-carb options, along with some carb options. For folks with carbohydrate intolerance, I’d favor lower-carb veggies and judicious amounts of fruits, berries, and higher-carb veggies and

Will these cause bladder cancer? Pancreatitis?

tubers.  “Judicious” depends on the individual, considering factors such as degree of residual insulin production, insulin sensitivity, the need to lose excess weight, and desire to avoid diabetes drugs.

Compared to the standard “diabetic diet” (what’s that?) and the Standard American Diet, switching to paleo should lower the glycemic index and glycemic load of the diet.  theoretically, that should help with blood sugar control.

A well-designed low-carb paleo diet would likely have at least twice as much fiber as the typical American diet, which would also tend to limit high blood sugar excursions.

In general, I favor a carbohydrate-restricted paleo diet for those with diabetes who have already decided to “go paleo.”  I’m not endorsing any paleo diet for anyone with diabetes at this point—I’m still doing my research.  But if you’re going to do it, I’d keep it lower-carb.  It has a lot of potential.

Are There Any Immediate Dangers for a Person With Diabetes Switching to the Paleo Diet?

It depends on three things: 1) current diet, and 2) current drug therapy, and 3) the particular version of paleo diet followed. 

Remember, the Standard American Diet provides 40% of total calories as added sugars and grains (nearly all highly refined).  Switching from SAD to a low-carb paleo diet will cut carb intake  and glycemic load substantially, raising the risk of hypoglycemia if the person is taking certain drugs.

Drugs with potential to cause hypoglycemia include insulin, sulfonylureas, meglitinides, pramlintide, and perhaps thiazolidinediones.

Who knows about carb content of the standard “diabetic diet”?  Contrary to popular belief, there is no monolithic “diabetic diet.”  There is no ADA diet (American Diabetes Association).  My impression, however, is that the ADA favors relatively high carbohydrate consumption, perhaps 45-60% of total calories.  Switching to low-carb paleo could definitely cause hypoglycemia in those taking the aforementioned drugs.

One way to avoid diet-induced hypoglycemia is to reduce the diabetic drug dose.

A type 2 overweight diabetic eating a Standard American Diet—and I know there are many out there—would tend to see lower glucose levels by switching to probably any of the popular paleo diets.  Be ready for hypoglycemia if you take those drugs.

Paleo diets are not necessarily low-carb.  Konner and Eaton estimate that ancestral hunter-gatherers obtained 35 to 40% of total calories from carbohydrates.  I’ve seen other estimates as low as 22%.  Reality likely falls between 22 and 65%.  When pressed for a brief answer as to how many carbohydrate calories are in the paleo diet, I say “about a third of the total.”  By comparison, the typical U.S. diet provides 50% of calories from carbohydrate.

Someone could end up with a high-carb paleo diet easily, by emphasizing tubers (e.g., potatoes), higher-carb vegetables, fruits, berries, and nuts (especially cashews). Compared with the SAD, this could cause higher or lower blood sugars, or no net change.

A diabetic on a Bernstein-style diet or Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet (both very-low-carb) but switching to paleo or low-carb paleo (50-150 g?) would see elevated blood sugars.  Perhaps very high glucoses.

Any person with diabetes making a change in diet should do it in consultation with a personal physician or other qualified healthcare professional familiar with their case.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Fun Facts!

  • A typical carbonated soda contain the equivalent of 10 tsp (50 ml) of sugar.
  • The typical U.S. adult eats 30 tsp  (150 ml) daily of added sweeteners and sugars.
  • U.S total grain product consumption was at record lows in the 1970s, at 138 pounds per person.  By 2000, grain consumption was up by 45%, to 200 pounds per person.
  • Total caloric sweetener consumption (by dry weight) was 110 pounds per person in the  1950s.  By 2000, it was up 39% to 150 pounds.
  • Between 1970 and 2003, consumption of added fats and oils rose by 63%, from 53 to 85 pounds.  [How tasty would that be without starches and sugars?  Not very.]
  • In 2008, “added fat” calories in the U.S. adult diet were 641 (24% of total calories).

Fun Facts provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

(The paleo diet is also referred to as the Paleolithic, Old Stone Age, Stone Age, Ancestral, Hunter-Gatherer, or Caveman diet.)

Self-Experimentation: Paleo Diet and Type 1 Diabetes

Feed the whole tribe with this baby!

 

 

Dave Wendel shares his experience treating type 1 diabetes with a paleo approach at Robb Wolf’s blog:

http://robbwolf.com/2011/10/17/type-1-diabetes-the-numbers-dont-lie/

Steve Parker, M.D.

Caveman Mark Trying Paleo Lifestyle for Type 1 Diabetes

Paleobetic is a new blog by a 30-year-old man, Mark, with type 1 diabetes.  At the start of November, 2011, he started the paleo lifestyle and diet, probably in the fashion of Robb Wolf.  He’s starting CrossFit, too.  It’s an open-ended N=1 experiment.

Since I’m in the U.S., I think of blood sugar in mg/dl rather than mmol/l.  Thankfully, Mark often includes his blood sugars in both values.  He’s on an insulin pump and does basal/bolus dosing of insulin.

You may want to follow Mark’s progress.

Steve Parker, M.D.