Starving Diabetes

The rise of diabetes in modern society has been noteworthy in its prevalence in affluent countries. 150 years ago, diabetes was a very rare disease among all human populations but now appears to be ubiquitous and has had deadly consequences.

Diabetes leads to your body being unable to process glucose (sugar) for energy, which results in too much sugar being present in your blood, your body systems may become overloaded and ultimately compromised. This can result in cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, hypertension, kidney damage/failure, lethargy, poor blood circulation resulting in foot damage and amputation, skin conditions, and eye damage (cataracts).

Learn Phase

We begin this short exploration with some basics about the disease – as usual, these are some inspirational facts that instill confidence in you to manage your lifestyle against the onset of the most prevalent form of diabetes.

The official name of the disease is diabetes mellitus, derived from Greek diabainen “to go through” and the Latin, mellitus, for sweet. Sugar appears to pass through the body, without being used properly. The original diagnosis was done by tasting the urine of the patient. The sweet taste and dark colour of urine are indicative that the body is “overloaded” with sugar and unable to process it properly.

The word diabetes was not in common use prior to 1850. But the word usage has been rising steadily since, except for the period of the two major world wars.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body is either unable to produce insulin (Type 1) or resistant to insulin (Type 2). Insulin is a hormone that helps activate glucose as a source of energy by the cells in your body.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5% of diabetes cases. While there is no known cause, there is evidence that genetics may play a role and consumption of cow’s milk also may play a role. There is no known cure for this condition which is also known as insulin deficiency.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for over 90% of diabetes cases, but in the vast majority of these, the condition is very likely reversible through proper diet and lifestyle. Type 2 diabetes is synonymous with the term insulin resistance and in turn the term metabolic syndrome. The concept, in short, is that the over saturation of sugar supply into the body causes the body to produce more and more insulin. But eventually, over time, ever more insulin is required to convert glucose into energy, until ultimately the body becomes insensitive or resistant to the effect of insulin on glucose. This results in an excess of insulin in the body as well as excess glucose in the body.

Excess insulin has biochemical pathways to cancer. Excess sugar in the blood leads to complications in many systems of the body – e.g. the heart, skin, eyes, legs.

The traditional view is that diabetes is caused by obesity; obesity leads to too many fat molecules in the bloodstream; these, in turn, interfere or block the natural interaction of insulin and glucose. This view puts the onus squarely on the individual to reduce the consumption of fatty foods and to reduce the number of calories that are consumed. Under this traditional view of diabetes, the recommended diet is a low-fat diet. This view further professes that sugar is simply a source of calories; as long as you are actively using more calories for energy than the amounts of calories eaten then all is fine.

The research that implicates fat in the insulin resistance process is undeniable, fat does interfere or disrupt the way insulin interact with glucose as an energy activator.

More recently researchers have been examining more closely the properties of different types of fats; the types we eat (digestive fats) versus the types of fats in our body (hepatic/visceral fat versus subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat, the fat that forms around the body’s critical organs, and hepatic fat, the fat that forms in the liver, are much more critical to health risk than subcutaneous fat (fat that lies just below the skin).

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So, the amount of body fat mass to overall body mass, your body fat ratio, is an important metric even though you might be slim. This is the so-called thin on the outside, fat on the inside (“TOFI”) group.

One of the most noteworthy proponents of an alternative view of the diabetes/obesity epidemic is Doctor Robert Lustig, author of “Fat Chance, beating the odds against sugar, processed food, obesity and disease”.

Dr. Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist, his explanation of the biochemical pathway of lipogenesis of processed sugar such as sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (and 54 other “sugar” foods) is very insightful, especially for parents. There are many recordings of his lectures on this subject matter on Youtube. Here is an example, “What is metabolic syndrome, and why are children getting it?”

The key takeaway is that for the first time we are seeing early onset of type 2 diabetes, and chronic child obesity AND non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children. Processed sugar (fructose) is a lipogenic substance, namely, it stimulates lipogenesis, the creation of triglycerides in the body (i.e. fat). And this is the hepatic and/or visceral fat that puts the body at high risk for further health complications and leads to metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance).

The peer-reviewed published research on this biochemical pathway is cited here: this should make anyone feel a bit more circumspect about the sugary drink that was packed in one’s kid’s lunch box?

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To further support the hypothesis, Dr. Lustig and others also established causation criterion to the same statistical standard that ultimately implicated cigarettes in the fight against lung cancer. The peer-reviewed research is also cited here. This demonstrates the concordance of the rise of type 2 diabetes beyond simply the increase in obesity. The only food substance to provide credible statistical predictive value for the recent decade of increases in diabetes cases is the consumption of processed sugar.

To further motivate and inspire your understanding of the topic versus traditional views, there is a further biochemical pathway analysis which has unlocked different types of digestive fats. This is the emergence of the concept of “Healthy Fats”, e.g. medium chain triglyceride foods (plant-based whole foods such as coconut and kernel palm oil) are processed differently than long-chain saturated fats (found in meat). Science has now definitely tagged trans fats as bad for us; these are now banned by some countries. We also now know more about mono-unsaturated fat foods as healthy such as avocado which is a nutrient dense food.

There is an ongoing debate about the role and health benefits of saturated fats. For example, MCT foods (a saturated fat) can be a useful source of ketone bodies, an alternative energy and preferred energy source for the brain – note that the brain accounts for 25% of total body energy demand.

But there should be no debate about the ill-effects of processed sugar.

Finally, we note that both those with lipodystrophy (too little fat due to leptin deficiency) and obesity (too much fat) can have metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance). Insulin is the signalling hormone of diabetes. Obesity is a marker for metabolic syndrome, but obesity does not cause metabolic syndrome. Everyone is at risk for metabolic syndrome: 80% of the obese among us (30% of people) and 40% of the normal weight population (70% of people) has metabolic syndrome. The most obesogenic foods are French-fries and potato chips (sweets and desserts are a distant 5th). Sugar accounts for only about 10% of our obesity problem. But sugar is still impactful for diabetes. Also, consider “healthy fat” food options such as nuts, avocados and coconuts instead of replacing fatty foods altogether.


Take Action

The key actions for improved self-awareness of your risk of diabetes are the following:

  • Read food labels – become self-aware of how much sugar and processed foods you eat
  • Consider replacing sugary drinks by water or tea
  • Have black coffee rather than sugar-loaded lattes
  • Acquire a taste for red wine as your primary source of alcohol
  • Know the type of fat that you eat (mono-unsaturated or medium-chain saturated fats)
  • Plan your healthy snacks
    • Nuts and Avocados
    • Dried fruits especially those that are very high in fibre
    • Veggie sticks (vegetables are 80% water)
    • Beans/Peas (e.g. wasabi peas)
    • Water
  • Reduce your eating window to less than 12 hours per day
  • Consider intermittent fasting protocols or longer periods of fasting
    • Foods consumed near bedtime (or after 9 pm) are likely to be stored as Fat
  • Avoid eating animal rich meals or starchy carbohydrates late at night
  • Periodically do a detox or elimination diet
  • Be active
  • Have a regular routine for exercise
    • Especially moderate or intense activity is even more beneficial to overall body health. Daily is best.

In general, the key actions around starving type 2 diabetes are becoming a more widespread practice in the medical community. Evidence of this is in such books as Doctor Jason Fung’s book “The Diabetes Code, Prevent and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes Naturally”; Dr. Fung also authored “The Obesity Code”.

As you take action along this pathway, you should notice within yourself the following benefits:

  • Fewer cravings, our human body has a natural bio-rhythm for feast and famine
  • More alertness and fewer periods of lethargy
  • More regular and natural bowel movements
  • More energy and higher performance during physical activity (exercise or otherwise)

Glucose is an important source of energy. But ketones or ketone bodies are also a very natural source of energy that can only be unlocked when your blood sugar level is low. Ketosis is/was a very natural state of our hunter/gatherer ancestors and our infancy years. Ketosis is when ketones are a primary source of energy, especially an efficient energy source for brain cells. So, keep in mind that it is possible that after 8 to 12 hours of postprandial fasting, the human body may naturally turn to ketones.

But this will only happen after your body adjusts to a regular practice of fasting, either 12+ hours daily or more substantive fasts every week or every month. One author that can help you explore this topic is Doctor Michael Moseley in his book “The Fast Diet, the original 5:2”, which describes a weekly practice of 5 days of normal eating and 2 days of fasting per week. In my own practice, I seem to manage best with 12-14 hours of fasting each day. This is known as the practice of “intermittent fasting”, or simply stated as a restricted “eating window”. Outside of which, I only consume water. I can attest that incorporating fasting gets easier over time, so please persevere through the initial rough few weeks. I can assure you the benefits are powerful.


Test Phase

This leads us naturally into some key reminders by way of self-tests that you can check regularly to gauge your progress or measure sustained excellence. Keep in mind, that these are useful self-awareness benchmarks for your physical as well as mental state.

Eating window and Autophagy

As mentioned, one key action is to monitor and become self-aware of your eating window. Please note that regular fasting is not simply a calorie reduction technique. In the traditional view discussed earlier, it was thought that a calorie is a calorie, and that simply counting the number of calories consumed versus the amounts utilized could be an effective strategy against obesity and diabetes.

But fasting achieves two things, one is it helps recover the natural biorhythm of feast and famine, which will stop your cravings and give the possibility of entering ketosis (the use of ketone bodies, which are made from fat in your body, as a source of energy, especially by brain cells).

Another powerful implication of fasting is the natural tendency of the body to repair itself. Doctor Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for elucidating the self-healing process of Autophagy. Autophagy directly translated means “eat thy self”. One way to think of the biochemical impact of Autophagy is at the molecular cell level of our body, the starvation from the usual sources of energy unlocks an adaptation of cells to detoxify (consume degenerative proteins) and repair themselves. Fasting promotes the process of Autophagy.

In layman’s terms: sugar accelerates ageing and fasting decelerates the ageing process (and in some regards even reverses it). Simply eating a little bit less each meal is not as beneficial as skipping a meal or two (periods of fasting).

There is a useful explanation of the research on Autophagy, fasting and detoxification, from the BRIGHT SIDE channel on YouTube “A one-day starvation secret got the Nobel Prize”.

So, the first self-test that you may wish to consider is to regularly monitor the number of consecutive days that you are able to keep an eating window of less than 12 hours. Remember it is the period when your body is totally starved from its usual sources of energy that promote Autophagy (self-eating and self-rejuvenation) and promote the use of ketone bodies for energy (fat burning). An 8-hour eating window (and 16 hours water fast) per day is one that is quite popular. But you can start with a 12-hour window then expand the fasting period gradually – you may even go onto a periodic fast of even longer durations e.g. 24 to 72 hours fast.


Know your metrics

Many people use body weight as a health metric. This can be an unfair metric because we are all different and we all have a natural healthy weight and body shape. A fixation on weight can be unrealistic because the benchmark for you as an individual is based on your specific genetics, body chemistry and physiology. In terms of health factors that drive diabetes, the traditional view espouses weight management and the metric known as BMI (body mass index). This says that normal is best defined by your height, weight and gender.

We know that 40% of so-called normal weight individuals are afflicted with metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance) in the same way as are 80% of the obese population. So, the real problem metric is the amount of hepatic and visceral fat that is in your body (at the core of your body).

As you change your diet, increase nutrient density in your meals, gradually shorten your eating window (or regularly practice fasting), and add moderately to intense exercise to your routine, other key metrics that you should consider monitoring are those for estimates of fat around your core (your organs).

An easy to measure metric is your waist to height ratio. In general, your waist circumference should be less than half your height. This self-test is to help you to determine if any lifestyle changes are impacting the core. It is in the core, your major organs and digestive tract, where the majority of the health risks issues are taking place in your own biochemistry.

Another related metric is Body Fat Ratio which can often be measured approximately with Impedance scales. These scales use a mild electrical current through your body to determine the level of conductivity within your body mass – depending on the composition of your body mass (fat mass, lean mass, bone mass and water) your body fat ratio scale reading will change.


Happy health moments

The most critical factor for our health, happiness and longevity is the number of our good relationships, say researchers from the Harvard Medical School; who have been conducting the longest running medical cohort study for over 75 years.

We all have heard the adage that the wealth of your 5 closest relationships are a strong predictor of your own wealth. Now we have medical research saying that your closest relationships are a very credible predictor of your health, happiness and longevity. So, make your journey a social one! … the more you share with your friends, the more there is shared learning, shared discoveries and shared joy and purpose.

The internet and social media are powerful inventions and even more so when they are used for empowerment. Telling others about your healthy and happy moments and learning about their moments provides powerful shared experiences for self-awareness, education, and discovery.

This third self-test is about recording your happy healthy moments – these could be photos of the meals that you found to be really good examples of rainbow colours of nutrient dense food or for starving diabetes or cancer. These could be happy “treats” moments, e.g. a walk in the park with a friend, or a glass of wine with your spouse to celebrate a big project. These are the moments that bring reflection and learning and joy! And a sense of purpose.

Ultimately starving diabetes is about bringing joy back into your life by (a) clearing the brain fog and lethargy through impactful diet change, (b) rediscovery of the power of your own body through proper exercise, and (c) enjoying the company of family and friends.

Starving diabetes is about replacing the craving for food (especially process foods) with the eagerness to show everyone, especially friends and family, who you truly are!!

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