It’s time for a science-y post. I hope you’re up for learning something new! I’ll try and keep it as understandable and relatable as possible.
The topic? Diabetes.
Let’s start with the basics. There are two types of diabetes, Type I and Type II.
Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body does not produce insulin. This is why Type I diabetics are reliant on giving themselves insulin at various times throughout the day. This is the type of diabetes you are generally born with (although it may not show up immediately at birth).
Type II diabetes, on the other hand, is largely a lifestyle disease. In this case, the body produces enough (or sometimes too much) insulin, but the body is insulin resistant, meaning it does not react to the body’s cry to produce and use insulin in the first place. This is the type of diabetes that you develop later in life, although we are seeing a huge increase in childhood diabetics (how sad!).
Before we go any further, I want to take a step back and explain the hormone insulin in greater detail.
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. Its job is to manage our blood sugar levels. When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into simple sugars by the body and enter our blood stream. When the body senses sugar in the blood stream, it signals to the pancreas to produce insulin. Once insulin is produced, it finds the sugar (also known as glucose) in the blood stream and shuttles it into the muscle cells, liver, brain, and fat cells. It is this storage of glucose that enables us to have energy throughout the day, instead of having to constantly eat all day for energy.
Where does diabetes come into play here? When there is dysregulation and dysfunction in the insulin response, diabetes is formed. Basically, the body sends the signal for insulin when it has sugar in the bloodstream, but the insulin never comes. In the case of Type I diabetes, there is no insulin to come because the body cannot produce it. In the case of Type II diabetes, however, the body has the ability to produce insulin, but it has become resistant to the call from the body.
Think of the story of the boy who called wolf. He kept calling wolf in order to make the shepherds come, even when there was no wolf. Eventually, when there actually was a wolf, the boy cried out, but the shepherds never came.
Insulin acts in the same way. If we chronically eat carbs and flood our blood stream with glucose, or if we are constantly calling on pancreas for insulin, our body becomes resistant to the call, and eventually, the pancreas quits sensing and reacting to the message. So what does our body do? It sends the signal even harder, trying to get insulin to be released to deal with the high blood sugar. This ultimately results in the formation of Type II diabetes.
Besides having chronically high blood sugar levels from overeating carbohydrates (especially simple, nutrient-void carbohydrates like grains, processed foods, and sugar), there are other factors that can contribute to the development of Type II diabetes.
First, leading a sedentary lifestyle can lead to Type II diabetes because the stored glucose in the muscle cells (remember that this is one of insulin’s jobs?!) never gets used! The insulin eventually runs out of places to store the excess glucose in the body, which keeps our blood sugar at a high level most of the time.
Secondly, gut dysbiosis (remember this topic?!) contributes to the development of Type II diabetes because when we don’t have enough of the good gut bacteria, we can’t synthesize and break down the nutrients in our food properly. This leads to an imbalance in blood sugar levels.
Next, sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity by affecting hormones that balance and regulate insulin sensitivity. One of these hormones is cortisol, the stress hormone that keeps the blood sugar high. Sleep deprivation also leads to gut dysbiosis, forming a vicious cycle.
Lastly, inflammation “ties the bow” in a way. Inflammation in our body is caused by the three factors above, as well as numerous other lifestyle factors (like a nutrient-poor diet or stressful job). It is inflammation that inhibits the body from performing properly, causing dysfunction.
All combined, these factors (plus numerous other environmental and genetic factors) help contribute to the formation of Type II diabetes and may also exacerbate the symptoms of Type I diabetes.
Therefore, it should be clear: to avoid getting diabetes, or to properly manage Type I or Type II diabetes, make sure your diet, lifestyle, and sleep are all in order. Eat real, whole, nourishing foods. Avoid foods high in simple carbohydrates, like grains, sugar, processed foods, pasta, flour, etc. Eat natural sources of carbs (like veggies and fruit) always with protein or fat alongside to make sure that your blood sugar remainds stable. Sleep. Take a probiotic. Be active on a daily basis. The list goes on and on.
Why is this important information to be aware of? Diabetes is taking over America. The statistics are astounding:
Almost 30 million children and adults in the US have diabetes
86 million Americans have prediabetes
1.7 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year
(stats taken from the American Diabetes Association website here)
What does this say? We have a problem in America, and obviously, what we are doing now isn’t working. Diabetes are told to eat carbohydrates at every meal. Why should they be consuming so much of the very substance that upsets their blood sugar levels? Shouldn't they be focused on consuming protein and fat first, and carbohydrates second? That way, less insulin is needed in the first place. Besides, our body can handle the breakdown of proteins and fat without the need of insulin. This is process explained perfectly by Dietitian Cassie here.
Managing our risk of developing diabetes starts within ourselves, with what we put in our body and how we manage our lifestyle. I sincerely hope that this post today provided with you with a ton of information about diabetes, what the disease is, what causes it, and how to manage it. Together, with real food, we can make a difference in America’s future.
Here's a few more links to check out:
Type I Diabetes
Diabetes and Paleo
Why Diabetics Should Eat More Fat, Dietitian Cassie