Can Diet, Lifestyle Manage Type 1 Diabetes? The following is an article we wrote and had published in Vitality Magazine June, 2012 issue under the title: Success Story: Diabetes – How One Family Used Nutrition to Conquer Type 1 Diabetes
The idea that Type 2 diabetes can be managed, reversed, and now even cured by diet and lifestyle changes is nothing revolutionary. That has been known for some time, and in many cases, it is incorporated into treatment plans.
But what about Type 1 diabetes? Can this disease be managed by diet and lifestyle changes, even to the point of reversing complications and symptoms?
We believe that in many cases the answer is, “Yes!”
Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system acts to destroy the body’s own tissues. The damage created by an autoimmune disorder can lead to medical complications and an increased risk for other disorders. The development of an autoimmune disorder is affected partly by genetics and partly by environmental agents that act as “triggers” to set the damaging immune response in motion.
Type 1 diabetes is one of many organ-specific autoimmune diseases with, as yet, an unknown trigger. Type 1 diabetes attacks the pancreas; more specifically the insulin-producing beta cells within the pancreas. Once enough of the beta cells have been destroyed, the body can no longer produce enough insulin to manage blood glucose properly.
There are many other organ-specific autoimmune diseases. Celiac Disease (CD) attacks the small intestine. Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease attack the thyroid. Multiple sclerosis (MS) attacks the central nervous system. Rheumatoid arthritis primarily attacks the synovial joints. And the list goes on.
On Celiac Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Arthritis
Can eating certain foods, or not eating others, really make a difference to your condition? If you have an autoimmune disease and you’ve already put this question to your doctor, you’ve probably been told that, “No conclusive evidence exists to show that any particular foods have any beneficial or adverse effects on symptoms.” Not exactly helpful!
However there is mounting evidence that what you eat or don’t eat can make a tremendous difference to virtually any immune system disorder. Let’s look at it this way; any food you eat that disagrees with your digestive system will cause a reaction. Your body may be intolerant or even allergic to that particular food item and will react by producing IgE antibodies to “protect” you from that food.
So, contrary to the conventional medical answer, many autoimmune diseases are responsive to lifestyle changes including diet, stress reduction, and exercise.
Celiac Disease is characterized by gluten intolerance. It is the only autoimmune disorder where the trigger is known: remove the trigger and the autoimmune response does not occur. This means that a person with CD who is following a gluten-free diet has as healthy an immune system as any average person walking down the street. In fact, the only known effective treatment for CD is a lifelong gluten-free diet.
With autoimmune thyroid disease, organ-specific autoantibodies (i.e. thyroid antibodies) will disappear after three to six months of a gluten-free diet.
Through an exhaustive, evidence-based analysis of medical research, Australian professor George Jelinek (diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1999) demonstrated through his MS recovery program that people with MS can stabilize the illness and potentially recover when they modify certain aspects of their lifestyles: especially their diet (probably the most important change) and exercise habits. He has lived with MS now for over a decade with no relapses and no disease progression.
Rheumatoid arthritis researchers suggest a “gut-joint axis” as a mechanism in disease progression. Common problem foods, or their lectins (sugar-binding proteins), probably contribute to the process of gut inflammation, causing injury resulting in a leaky gut. Injury and a leaky gut may allow the entry of toxic food protein (lectin)-bacteria complexes resulting in inflammatory and/or autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
The Link Between Diet, Inflammation, and Disease
Some researchers propose that many autoimmune diseases may share a common mechanism, especially organ-specific autoimmune diseases. They hypothesize that the development of autoimmune disease is determined in part by genetic susceptibility, and in part by a deficiency or dysfunction in certain immune system cells called regulatory T cells. Under this hypothesis, a single environmental factor may lead to the occurrence of different autoimmune diseases, frequently more than one, in a single individual.
Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, and Celiac disease (and others) are all more common among people with Type 1 diabetes. The most common additional autoimmune disease in people with Type 1 diabetes is thyroid disease. Fifteen to 20 percent of diabetics have evidence of thyroid autoimmune disease, compared to 4.5 percent in the general population.
Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease are both associated with some of the same susceptibility genes. The prevalence of CD in children with Type 1 diabetes is higher than in the general population – some estimates suggest 10 to 20 percent higher rates in children with Type 1 diabetes.
Undiagnosed Celiac disease may actually be part of the process that triggers an underlying autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease. Research has demonstrated how diet may in fact have a major role in autoimmune reactions.
Since gut inflammation plays a role in Type 1 diabetes, it stands to reason that diet and lifestyle changes might have a significant impact on disease progression or at least its management. Unfortunately, most people diagnosed with Type 1 are told to eat whatever they want and “just cover it with insulin.”
Researchers believe that all the autoimmune diseases we have mentioned are triggered by environmental factors in genetically susceptible people, with dietary elements topping the list of possible triggers. Is it such a stretch to think that diet and lifestyle changes can have an impact on the management of Type 1 diabetes, especially in those newly diagnosed, who have not yet experienced complete destruction of their pancreatic beta cells?
It is fascinating to see how many of the dietary “do’s and don’ts” are shared between the various autoimmune disease diets. Most of the disease-specific therapeutic diets are strikingly similar, with minor variations to further eliminate suspected causative triggers.
Success with Type 1 Diabetes
We have had remarkable success with our two Type 1 diabetic boys by implementing what we call the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle. With the help of our family doctor, we caught the disease very early with our first boy. After learning that having family members with diabetes is a major risk factor, we had our other kids tested. We caught the disease early in our second son as well, even before significant manifestation of outward symptoms other than elevated blood sugar levels and increased moodiness.
Low glycemic foods: The Health-e-Solutions lifestyle’s focus is on foods that are alkalizing to the body and extremely low in glycemic impact: We eat lots of raw, green, leafy vegetables (no starchy root vegetables), and low-glycemic alkalizing fruits such as lemons, limes, tomatoes, and plenty of avocados. Low glycemic nuts, nut flours, and nut butters such as almonds, walnuts (in moderation) and pecans are abundant in this lifestyle. We also incorporate plentiful amounts of healthy seeds into our diet, such as sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, flax, and chia seeds. (All nuts and seeds used are raw, unprocessed, and unsalted.)
Fats and Oils: Healthy fats and oils are critical to success as they provide an alternative fuel supply to carbohydrates. Among the best oils are almond, avocado, cold-pressed extra virgin olive, and coconut. Off limits are margarines, vegetable oils, trans fats, and saturated fats from factory-farmed meats. After a period of time, six months to a year to give the bowels a rest, some occasional wild-caught salmon or grass-fed meat can be beneficial for some people.
Supplements: We also include a few supplements to balance their nutrition and support our boys’ metabolisms. We strongly recommend being under the care of a qualified doctor to determine which supplements should be considered. Each case is different. Our main focus is firmly on the foods, but we believe some supplements are helpful. Fish oil rich in EPA and DHA, as well as cinnamon bark, vitamin D3, niacinamide, B complex including B12, and chlorophyll would be good supplements for your doctor to consider.
Allergenic Foods: The usual food suspects are avoided. First and foremost we eliminated sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and its derivatives, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols. Both gluten and dairy are strongly associated with a higher risk of developing Type 1 diabetes, so we exclude these antigen-producing foods. Processed meats and factory-farmed meats are also avoided.
This nutritional regimen, along with increased and consistent exercise, reduced stress, and better quality sleep, has produced marvellous results in our boys. They require no insulin injections. They have stable blood sugars. Both of them had a 4.7% on their last Hemoglobin A1c test. And they tested negative for autoimmune antibodies.
When diagnosed in 2008, our youngest son had no measurable insulin in his blood. Today, he is producing insulin again. Both of our boys now have normal C-peptide levels. They are growing and thriving.
So long as they stay on the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle they have no complications or symptoms!
Our boys are not alone. Others we have helped get started with the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle have had a broad range of results, the minimum of which is better, more stable blood sugar control. The best results are achieved with those newly diagnosed within a year. Still others achieve more stable blood glucose levels and the reversal of some or all of their symptoms and complications.
The Health-e-Solutions lifestyle can help people manage all type of diabetes: Type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes (which is not really pre- anything, but that is for another article), Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adults (LADA), Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), and more. Focusing on whole, fresh unprocessed, nutrient dense foods with very low glycemic impact, and alkalizing qualities, has a wonderful leveling effect on blood sugars. Blood sugar highs and lows that initially resembled a roller coaster ride oftentimes flatten out to look more like rolling plains, naturally requiring less insulin and producing better stabilization.
Can Type 1 diabetes be managed by diet and lifestyle changes, even to the point of reversing complications and symptoms? That, certainly, has been the case for our two boys, and it has worked for others we know who are living the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle.
Since all we are talking about is healthy, nutritious food, what do you have to lose?
We would encourage you to step away from the doughnuts and step into a lifestyle that may change your health, if not your life.
Until we have a cure for type 1 diabetes, it is our opinion that mastering this disease in the healthiest way possible through lifestyle innovations as a priority over drug therapies is vital. It is important for optimal blood sugar control today, but it can help put your body in a position of strength for tomorrow – for that day when the cure for type 1 diabetes may be found. Our recipe e-books, workshops and home study course will teach you how to transform your lifestyle in a practical, livable way for long term sustainability and better living. Our support services can make the difference between success and failure during your transformation. And our advanced resources will take you deeper into practical application and underlying research. Let us help you shorten the learning curve to successful lifestyle transformation by setting you on the path toward optimal blood sugar control and better living.
Sources: reports, journals, websites
• Di Sabatino A, Corazza GR (April 2009). “Celiac disease”. Lancet 373 (9673): 1480–93.
• Digestive Diseases and Sciences, February 2000; 45:403-406
• Jelinek, George, Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, An Evidence-Based Guide to Recovery, Allen & Unwin, 2010. For more info, visit: http://www.overcomingmultiplesclerosis.org/
• Hvatum M, Kanerud L, Hallgren, Brandtzaeg P. “The gut-joint axis: cross reactive food antibodies in rheumatoid arthritis. Gut 2006; 55:1240-1247.
• Betterle, C., et al. (1984). Clinical and subclinical organ-specific autoimmune manifestations in type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic patients and their first-degree relatives. Diabetologia, 26, 431-436.
• Digestive Diseases and Sciences, February 2000; 45:403-406.