There is no cure, per se, for type 2 diabetes, but there is much you can do to control it and live well.
The National Institutes of Health is currently investigating “cures” such as pancreas transplantation, artificial pancreas development, and genetic manipulation, but each of these approaches still has a lot of challenges.
The good news is that several studies have affirmed that many people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose – and have glucose ranges very similar to non-diabetics – by following a healthy eating plan and exercise program, losing excess weight, and, if needed, taking medications.
For many, a healthy lifestyle alone (little or no medications needed) can prevent or control diabetes.
In fact, a healthy lifestyle has been found to be more effective than medications. In a landmark study, the NIH-sponsored Diabetes Prevention Program, scientists tracked 3,234 pre-diabetic men and women for three years.
A third of them adopted lifestyle changes. Another third took a drug – metformin (Glucophage®). The remaining third, the control group, took a placebo.
Those on the lifestyle-change plan reduced the progression to full-blown type 2 diabetes by 58% compared to the control group. The reduction was even greater – 71% – among adults aged 60 years or older. Treatment with the drug metformin reduced the risk by just 31% overall.
The lifestyle changes in the study were similar to the Pritikin Program and focused on eating low-calorie-dense, high-fiber foods, exercising five days weekly for at least 30 minutes, and a 7% weight loss.
Quick action to control diabetes with a healthy lifestyle can be especially beneficial.
In a study by UCLA scientists of 652 people with diabetes who came to the Pritikin Longevity Center to learn how to eat well and exercise, those in the early stages of diabetes (not yet on medications) achieved the greatest benefits. Within three weeks, an impressive 76% lowered their blood glucose to levels where they were no longer defined as having diabetes.
Among those on oral drugs, 70% were able to get off their medications.
But among the long-term type 2 diabetics – those who over the years had progressed to the point where they needed insulin injections – only about a third were successful in reducing or eliminating their insulin dosages.
The study’s title included the phrase The Need For Early Emphasis because “it’s very clear from this study’s results that if we can get people early and start to treat them with a healthy lifestyle like Pritikin, we can actually reverse the disease,” states lead author James Barnard, PhD.
“If you’ve been recently diagnosed, there’s every reason to believe you can live a healthy, productive life with healthy glucose ranges by following a food and fitness plan like Pritikin. You can’t wait around, though. You’ve got to take action early on.”
It’s really important to act. Period.
Controlling diabetes can help ward off the many painful and life-threatening complications of the disease.
- Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic lower-limb amputations, and new cases of blindness among adults in the United States.
- Diabetes is also a major cause of heart disease and stroke.
- Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about 2 to 4 times higher than adults without diabetes.
- The risk for stroke is 2 to 4 times higher among people with diabetes.
- About 60 to 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage. The results of such damage include impaired sensation or pain in the feet or hands, slowed digestion of food in the stomach, carpal tunnel syndrome, erectile dysfunction, or other nerve problems. Severe forms of diabetic nerve disease are a major contributing cause of lower-extremity amputations.
- Overall, the risk for death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people of similar agebut without diabetes.
5 If you have diabetes, carbohydrates are okay. What’s important is that you eat the right carbs.
The physicians and registered dietitians at the Pritikin Longevity Center advise the following:
- Stay away from dry/highly processed/high-calorie-dense carbohydrates like pretzels, chips, white-flour breads, muffins, dried fruits, dry cereals, crackers, “energy” bars, candy, bagels, and popcorn.
- Instead, enjoy carbohydrate-rich foods that have a high water and fiber content such as fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, hot whole-grain cereals like oatmeal and barley, and fiber-rich, water-rich starches such as yams, corn, and potatoes, with the skin on. While some of these foods have occasionally been vilified in the popular media, “they are in fact wonderful choices,” asserts Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “They are relatively low in calorie concentration and high in fiber and nutrients. Plus, they’re filling, which means you’re curbing hunger.”
Overall, the Pritikin Eating Plan mirrors the plans recommended by health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control, and includes:
- Hearty consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes like beans
- Moderate intake of fat-free dairy products and lean animal meat like fish, skinless poultry, and bison
- Little or no intake of added sugars, saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium
Particularly for people with pre-diabetes or diabetes, the Pritikin Program also emphasizes foods rich in soluble fiber because they can help prevent excessive rises in blood sugar. Excellent choices are low-starch vegetables, beans/lentils (also called legumes), cooked oatmeal, and certain fresh fruits, especially berries.
Pritikin’s faculty also counsels guests with pre-diabetes or diabetes to enjoy fruit as a between-meal snack, but always be sure to combine fruit with another high-fiber food, ideally raw or cooked vegetables, in order to avoid excessive blood glucose elevations.
Exercise is one of medicine’s most powerful “drugs.”
Exercise directly impacts insulin resistance – the key precursor of type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance occurs when our body’s cells, bloated with glucose from excess calories, “shut their doors” so that insulin can’t ferry more glucose into them, which means glucose builds up in the blood.
Regular exercise reduces our cells’ resistance to insulin by using up glucose as fuel for muscles, which means there’s less glucose in both our bloodstream and cells. Our cells, no longer stuffed with glucose, are much more inclined to “open up” and let insulin send more glucose in.
Regular exercise also aids in the loss of body fat – and helps keep the weight off. In fact, the best predictor of long-term weight-loss success is a lifestyle that includes regular exercise.Bottom Line: With regular exercise, our bodies are “burning up” glucose before it has a chance to build up in the blood.
Regular physical activity also helps lower blood pressure and reduce triglycerides (fats in the blood), thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular-related diseases such as heart disease and strokes, as well as diabetes.
In most cases, the following guidelines, taught by the exercise physiologists at the Pritikin Longevity Center, will greatly improve blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglyceride control, and enhance success at losing excess weight:
- Aerobic exercise daily, a minimum of 30 minutes and optimally 60 to 90 minutes, alternating moderate-intensity days with vigorous-intensity days;
- Full-body resistance (strength) routine two to three times weekly; and
- Stretching exercises at least three times weekly.
Do make sure that you make an appointment with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. At Pritikin, all guests begin their stay with a comprehensive physician review and exercise tolerance testing.
Diabetes is not just about blood sugar abnormalities. It involves hormonal abnormalities.
And it often starts with something many people across America do. They overeat at night, then skip breakfast the following morning, thinking, “I’ll save my calories for later.” But the body is likely interpreting that long 10-hour stretch of no food as famine, and it starts saving fat. It also pumps out hormones, like ghrelin, which scientists call a hunger hormone. High levels of this hormone drive you to “EAT, AND EAT NOW.”
Hormones, in effect, thwart your efforts to shed weight not only because they send out “BINGE” signals but also because they alter the way your body burns calories. They induce your body to store fat rather than burn it.
And these hormones work hand in hand with belly fat. Fat in the abdominal area produces chemicals, including steroid hormones, which make you more likely to gain fat.The more fat your body gains, the greater your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
With belly fat, another important fat-storage hormone – insulin – is negatively affected. As discussed earlier, insulin is directly involved in the onset of diabetes.
Now for the good news: A healthy eating and exercise plan like the Pritikin Program is one of the best things you can do to straighten out hormonal dysfunctions, “and we’ve found at Pritikin that it often starts happening within a few days. Daily exercise and optimal nutrition can reverse these hormonal abnormalities,” states Dr. Danine Fruge, Associate Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
“Guests at Pritikin feel it. Within days, they’re actually starting to feel hungry in the morning. They wake up eagerly anticipating the gorgeous fresh fruit and hot whole-grain cereals in the breakfast buffet. They’re also losing their afternoon and evening food cravings. Their metabolism is revving up. They have a renewed energy and start to ‘feel like’ working out.
“Within two to three days, they notice that their blood pressure and blood sugar have already begun to lower after each exercise workout. And their brains, because they’re getting a steady infusion of healthful carbohydrates, are far more alert throughout the day. Last but not least, the excess weight, even stubborn belly fat, is starting to come off.”