Diabetes Damage Control

Diabetes is on the rise, both type 1–in which the pancreas does not secrete insulin –and type 2–in which the cells’ receptors for insulin don’t work. Either way—and the likelihood is that most diabetics have some combination of type 1 and type 2–sugar can’t get into the cells (so they starve) and sugar levels in the blood remain high.

Diabetes treatment protocol

Chronically high blood sugar levels lead to serious consequences, including kidney failure, nerve damage, difficulty healing and eye problems. Both types of diabetes result in a slow and painful death that can include dialysis, amputation and permanent blindness.

If you surf around the internet, you will find some websites giving pretty good advice on how to manage and even avoid diabetes. Besthealthyguide.com advises readers to eliminate processed and refined foods from the diet, such as flours, sugar and trans fat, and to limit consumption of grains and high-carb foods as a way of keeping blood sugar levels stable. The website notes that you can reduce your dose of drugs like metformin on this kind of diet.

Health.com warns that people with diabetes should avoid sugary drinks as much as possible. “People with diabetes should absolutely avoid sugar-sweetened beverages including soda, sports drinks, sweetened teas, and juice, unless these are using these beverages to treat a low blood sugar. . . . Carbohydrates in liquid form spike blood sugars very quickly—they are great for treating a low blood sugar, but if someone’s blood sugar is normal or high, they will send their blood sugar to the next level.”

A UK diabetes website reports on the promising work of Hungarian scientist Csaba Tóth. Using what he calls a “paleo keto” diet, one very high in animal fat, he reports good success in restoring normal blood glucose levels. In one case study, a nine-year-old boy with type 1 diabetes adopted a diet of meat, organ meats, fat and eggs and went two years without insulin. His blood glucose levels were significantly lower during the paleo keto diet compared to six weeks of insulin therapy, and the episodes of hypoglycemia he experienced on insulin therapy ceased. Toth’s research has indicated that children with new-onset type 1 diabetes who adopt a paleo keto diet can go for several months, even years, before needing insulin injections. As for adults with long-standing type 1 diabetes, the Hungarian scientist believes that the diet could yield health benefits, such as less dependency on medication and a reduced risk of complications. “We don’t know of any cases where a patient didn’t have positive results with this diet,” says Tóth, who insists that people with type 2 diabetes can also benefit because the diet normalizes blood glucose levels by combatting insulin resistance.

This kind of good advice has the pharmaceutical industry worried; they can’t have folks solving their blood sugar problems with diet instead of drugs! Damage control recently appeared in the form of an article in the January 5 Washington Post by Heather Ferris, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Virginia.

Harris provides the standard conventional explanation that “type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes a person’s body to attack its pancreas. . . The only way to treat it is with insulin injections or an insulin pump.” I’ve often said that the medical profession tends to blame illness on the Three G’s—germs, genes and God—and Ferris is no exception. Diet does not enter the discussion as a cause of type 1 diabetes.  Instead, says Harris, “Genes are an important risk factor, yet environmental influences, such as a viral or bacterial infection, probably also play a role.”  In fact, Harris is insistent that eating sugar does not cause diabetes. Is it not possible that eating a lot of sugar taxes the pancreas to produce insulin meal after meal until it becomes exhausted?  Is it not possible that a diet high in sugar will be so low in important nutrients that the pancreas does not have what it needs to produce insulin? Not at all! According to Harris, “. . . as an autoimmune disorder type 1 diabetes develops as a result of genetic risk,” not by eating a diet high in sugar. In other words, diabetes is not your fault, it is God’s will.

And what about nutrient deficiencies? What does the pancreas need to be healthy and to produce insulin? I am reminded of a 2003 study which found that use of cod liver oil in the first year of life was associated with a significantly lower risk of type 1 diabetes. [Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Dec;78(6):1128-34]. The inference is that vitamins A and D are involved in insulin production—which makes sense since these vitamins are involved in all hormone production. (By the way, this study indicated that giving vitamin D alone does not lower the risk of type 1 diabetes.) Another diabetes.co.uk post suggests that vitamins B12 and B6, as well as zinc and a host of other minerals, all support insulin production—in other words, a nutrient-dense diet can prevent type 1 diabetes. Sugar, of course, contains no nutrients, so any consumption of sugar will displace foods that supply the nutrients we need (in addition to spiking blood sugar levels).

But Harris insists that you can only treat type 1 diabetes with insulin. “There are endless dubious stories about people with type 1 diabetes who manage, through some dietary trick, to avoid the need for insulin.” She cites Dr. Toth’s nine-year-old patient and the actress Halle Berry, who was able to wean herself off insulin with a healthy diet. These good results never last, says Harris. “The patients have just reduced the burden placed on their weakened pancreas,” which apparently she does not think is a good thing. “Inevitably they will end up back on insulin as their immune system continues to attack the pancreas.”

In discussing type 2 diabetes, Harris seems confused. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin, but the body can’t get blood sugar into the cells because the receptors don’t work. Yet Harris seems to think that people get type 2 diabetes when their pancreases “can’t produce large amounts of insulin on demand.” She also blames overweight and inactivity, but perhaps these are the side effects of type 2 diabetes, not the cause. We know that trans fats block insulin receptor function, and it’s a safe bet that other dietary toxins do the same thing. Again, research indicates that a variety of nutrients play a role in improving insulin receptor function. Zinc, magnesium and vitamin D all seem to be involved in insulin receptor support, as well as avoiding too many carbs. Healthy saturated fats (butter, meat fats, lard, coconut oil) also support insulin receptor function.

Healthy traditional fats not only help our insulin receptors to work, they also slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream.  Common sense would indicate that diabetics should eat a diet high in fats while avoiding sugars. . . . but not according to Harris. Fat, she insists, “is what really makes blood sugars hard to control for many people with diabetes. In my clinic, when I see a high blood-sugar reading from a patient whose numbers are usually in the normal range, my first question is whether they had pizza or Chinese takeout the night before.”

Pizza actually does contain some good fat in the pepperoni and cheese, but Chinese takeout is made with vegetable oils.  What these two foods have in common is high levels of MSG, known to interfere with insulin receptors, which could lead to high blood sugar readings.

However, it is true that a high-fat diet, especially when mixed with a lot of carbs, is a danger when you are on insulin.  As Harris explains, these are “a challenging combination for someone with diabetes.  Fat slows the absorption of the carbohydrates and increases the body’s insulin resistance, raising blood sugars. (Actually saturated fats improve the body’s insulin resistance, but the slow release of carbs is a problem when you are on insulin.) The slow food absorption throws off the normal insulin timing; the result is often low blood sugar levels (as the insulin kicks in before digestion) followed by high blood sugar levels (as the insulin wears off while the carbohydrates from the meal linger).”

The truth is that everything gets tricky when you are on insulin, and you may suddenly find that your blood sugar is too low (a very dangerous situation) or too high.  Another problem is hyperinsulinism, too much insulin in the blood, especially if you also have type2 diabetes. This may result in anxiety or a panic attack (insulin is actually a stress hormone) in addition to sugar cravings, lack of focus and fatigue.

The problem is that doctors like Harris begin treatment of diabetes by putting patients on insulin (for type 1 diabetes) or drugs like metformin for blood sugar control (for type 2 diabetes) without first suggesting a diet that might make the insulin or drugs unnecessary.  When a patient gets a diagnosis of diabetes and finds himself looking into a future of kidney failure and gradual body part removal, he might just be motivated to make real changes; he might just be persuaded to adopt a low-carb, high-fat diet of real food like butter, liver and meat instead of pizza and Chinese takeout, he might try cod liver and a breakfast of eggs and bacon, he might opt for cheese instead of a candy bar between meals.  Such a diet will work for many, making drugs unnecessary and vastly improving their quality of life. It won’t work for everyone and, of course, many patients are unwilling to change their junk food habits no matter what the future holds in store. For these, insulin and drugs will have to serve as Plan B.  Even then, a few small changes, like eating a breakfast of real food and taking cod liver oil, can mitigate the side effects of diabetes and its treatment.  But don’t expect such good advice to come from Dr. Harris.

The Weston A. Price Foundation provides dietary guidelines and support freedom from disease and vibrant health.  Your memberships support the work we do.

Author: Sally Fallon Morell

Sally Fallon Morell is best known as the author of Nourishing Traditions®: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. This well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods contains a startling message: animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels.

7 thoughts on “Diabetes Damage Control”

  1. Fantastic Article Sally!

    I have just been mulling over a comment made by one of my favorite medical researchers, Dr. Malcolm Kendrick:

    “I upset the likes of Jason Fung from time to time by informing him that I do not believe there is any such thing as insulin resistance. If there is such a thing, it only occurs in skeletal muscle and the liver. I sometimes think of the process as ‘trying to find somewhere to store glucose, when your glucose/glycogen stores are full.’ These stores only exist in skeletal muscle and the liver.

    Anyway, imagine you have no fat cells. A rare condition that some people suffer from.

    You eat carbohydrates, which are converted to glucose/fructose and sent to the liver. The liver stores about 500Kcals, the the muscles store about 1,000Kcals – you are now full of ‘sugar’ and can store no more. If you eat more, the liver can only convert the sugars to fat (nowhere else for them to go), through a process known as de novo lipogenesis. Then, the fat is sent out from the liver in triglycerides (VLDL molecules). Then, it has nowhere to go, because there are no fat cells to store the fat.

    Then…. all hell breaks loose.

    Every single person with the condition known as Generalised Congenital Lipodystrophy (no fat cells) has type II diabetes. Why, because their energy stores are full.

    Ergo, people who develop diabetes, do not develop it because they are fat. It is because they reach their limits of energy storage. This is not insulin resistance it is just being full.”


    1. This is very interesting!

      When I was growing up, there was an aunt and a cousin who came to my grandmother’s Sunday dinners. They both had diabetes. The cousin was beautiful, with alabaster skin and very slender. The diabetes made her completely blind. The aunt was overweight, just looked a mess, but functioned normally.


  2. Most cases of type 1 diabetes present in children, when they are already extremely sick from high blood sugars. Their pancreas has already failed to the point where they are at extreme risk of death due to ketoacidocis. To suggest a doctor should not immediately put them on insulin is ignorant and dangerous advice. The study you cite regarding cod liver oil is interesting. It may well be that increasing vitamins A & D helps the body detox from a major trigger of type 1, which is toxins contained in vaccines.

  3. In my family diabetes II is common…..trauma and emotional issues lead to thyroid and weight problems because of chronic stress, even with a weston price diet I have managed to get my blood sugars high. I had so much stress from shopping for food as a single parent then to find the kinds of foods and then to make them in a one parent household is just so much more stressful and was not possible. I have not recovered from the fatigue, took many years of cod liver oil and followed the diet, constantly thinking about food can make people more sick. It would be nice to have one or two people in charge of cooking per family but that’s not happening when there is only one person in charge of all things to do, so this will only work with a lot of support. i recently heard this confirmed, the three brains and how it is not a choice but survival to continue the protective measure that the brain has control over to keep a person eating too much or the wrong foods. It seems the only way out is support, relaxation, lots of time to destress and not doing too much, being out in nature and sunshine.

    1. I love this comment. I had to distance myself from the Weston A. Price foundation years ago because it was too much for me. I don’t even have children, but the driving hours each weekend for milk, the CSA shares, the multiple farmers market, the cod liver oil debates and scares, and more was hard. As a single mom, I think if you avoided box cereals and choose store-made rotisserie chicken over fast food would put you in a good place, but that is still “bad” for WAPF. I still appreciate the work of the group – but it is no longer for me. I got an email to join as a member and was poking around and considering getting back in the fold at a much lower level of involvement, but I don’t think I will. First, I wish the organization would take stress into account like you say above. The works of Gabor Mate, Bruce Lipton, John Sarno, and Nortin Hadler, have really helped me. I find that WAPF still focuses on the human machine – fuel, vitamins, resources rather than the human being – love, connection, empowerment. The love you share with your children at a table together built of a meal from a conventionally raised rotisserie chicken with some MSG is likely loads healthier than grabbing something in the car or opening a bag of chips. If you are like anything like me, even that sort of meal makes you feel guilty and inferior. I really appreciate the work of the Ellyn Satter institute – focus on regular family meals and nutrition will improve. I still appreciate the interesting insights I learn here – it is good to question – what if viruses are actually the symptom and not the cause? Intriguing! Tom Cowan’s work has really amazed me too – the way I think about my body and my heart has given me a new perspective. I disagree with this article though – I think type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease which is affected by stress, especially the stress one endures trying to please others and not speaking up for oneself (see Gabor Mate and When the Body Says No). One of the things I did love about WAPF years ago was that I’d meet very lefty “hippies” talking about fermentation and urban gardens along with very conservative, home schooling families living off the land. It was (and maybe still is) a group that bridged people over a shared kitchen table. Was it the raw milk that was magical or were the people drinking it together the magic? What if Weston A. Price looked at which communities were the most egalitarian and connected? What if he looked for communities where people had both community and autonomy? I wonder if he would have seen similar results.

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