If you haven’t heard the news, Type II diabetes is a world wide epidemic that is expected to reach epic proportions over the next two decades. Type II diabetes occurs when the body becomes insulin resistant resulting in excess sugar in the blood. If a person is Type I diabetic, they were born with the condition. There is no shortage of information regarding the devastating effects that diabetes has on the body and on society as a whole. Diabetes has long been associated with obesity. The common equation suggests that obesity leads to insulin resistance which leads to type II diabetes. That’s the primary reason type II diabetics are told to lose weight. What if I told you that current research suggests the common equation may be false or, at the very least, misunderstood?
This would mean that reversing type II diabetes isn’t merely about losing weight, it’s about understanding what drives insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to allow cells to release stored sugar to be used as energy. The pancreas is a large gland located behind the stomach that secrets digestive enzymes into the small intestine. Also within the pancreas are structures called the islets of Langerhans where beta cells are responsible for the creation of insulin and glucagon. The purpose of the enzymes is to properly digest food (proteins, fats and carbs) to be converted into energy and manage the level of sugar in the blood.
When we eat more than our bodies require that excess can get stored as fat or used up during physical activities. The role insulin plays in managing sugar levels is to tell our cells to “unlock” themselves to use sugar as energy. When there is more sugar than insulin the cells don’t get this message and sugar then builds up in the blood stream. Having excess sugar in the blood stream is like having shards of glass floating through your body. The sugar causes damage to blood vessels. When the blood vessels repair themselves this can result in blockages in the arteries leading to such conditions as Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) and Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) or other cardiovascular diseases. The elevated levels of blood sugar in this manner is what is called diabetes. Again, for type I diabetics this process is slightly different but they were born that way. Type II diabetes is acquired. The most common way to test blood sugar levels is through a blood test following a period of fasting for at least eight hours. If the levels are less than 100 mg/dl (100 milligrams per deciliter) of blood you are considered normal. Between 100 mg/dl and 125 mg/dl is considered to be prediabetes and above 125 mg/dl is diagnosed as diabetic.
At the prediabetes stage an individual is advised to make significant lifestyle changes in order to reverse the condition. Chief among these changes are nutrition and an increase in activity level. Once diabetes has set in these changes are required along with taking insulin injections. At this point an individual has to monitor their blood sugar levels throughout the day and inject insulin appropriately with their meals. They can’t allow their sugar levels to get too high or too low. The body will attempt to get rid of excess sugar by storing it as fat and by attempting to push it out through the kidneys. This is why diabetics are often thirsty. The body uses water to flush the sugar out.
Let’s take a look at the first part of the equation, obesity leads to insulin resistance. How about we flip that around – insulin resistance leads to obesity. Scientists and even primary physicians will say they don’t quite understand what causes insulin resistance. But is that entirely accurate? Dr. Roy Taylor believes otherwise.
The Pancreas May Be The Key
Roy Taylor is a doctor and professor of Medicine and Metabolism at the University of Newcastle in in England. He heads up an intensive research program called the Diabetes Research Group. He has published several papers over the years that explain both the cause and cure for type II diabetes based on his extensive research. He has even developed a special diet that is said to reverse type II diabetes. This isn’t some secret society or a quack physician, this is solid scientific research that is supported by major education institutions and some pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Taylor noticed that morbidly obese patients that underwent weight loss surgeries were returning to normal blood sugar levels quickly thereby reversing their type II diabetes status. At first he figured this was due to weight loss, except most lowered their blood sugar levels prior to extreme weight loss and in some cases prior to surgery. He theorized the sugar level decrease was due to the low calorie diet patients had to undertake prior to the surgery. After some experimentation on 11 people funded by Diabetes UK they found that all reversed their diabetes by reducing food intake to 600 calories a day for two months. Seems extreme, right? It also may seem obvious, that reduced intake of calories results in significant weight loss and of course it would reduce sugar levels.
Here’s the punchline, are you ready? Recall that the pancreas is responsible for the production and secretion of insulin. Dr. Taylor surmised that fat build up around the pancreas is actually what causes the decline in insulin production which in turn leads to obesity. This could explain why people who are somewhat overweight and far from obese also develop type II diabetes. The low calorie diet developed by Dr. Taylor is designed to help jump start the pancreas. The body is super smart. It will remove fat from around the structures it needs most first. The theory is that the body needs the pancreas in order to burn sugar for energy therefore it will remove fat from the pancreas first allowing for increased insulin production.
The team of researchers used a MRI scan of the pancreas before and after the l0w-calorie diet to confirm the results. The scans showed that fat levels in the pancreas had decreased. The 11 participants were allowed to return to a normal caloric intake after receiving education on proper nutrition – seven remained free of diabetes. Without getting too much into the weeds, the secret may lie in the number of beta cells in the pancreas. In addition to how much fat is in the liver. Non-diabetics have more beta cells than diabetics. The decrease of fat may allow for the beta cells to regenerate. Professor Taylor summarized their findings by saying that it’s about an energy balance in the body. When there is an excess of sugar it can get stored in the liver and pancreas as fat leading to insulin resistance and eventually type II diabetes. Obesity, then, becomes a symptom instead of a cause.
Those eleven participants is a small group and were under strict supervision of medical professionals. But why is this information not more widely known?
The Diabetes Business
Diabetes is a double-edge sword. It costs the American healthcare systems billions of dollars to treat diabetes-related conditions in addition to diabetes itself. Type II diabetes is being diagnosed in children when a decade ago it was referred to as adult onset diabetes. The other edge of the sword is that it is big business for pharmaceutical companies that manufacture insulin and other diabetes management companies. According to ReportsnReports the global human insulin market is growing at a 10.29% CAGR (compound annual growth rate). The numbers are staggering world wide on the growing population of type II diabetics. These companies are poised to make a great deal of money from the diabetes epidemic.
While the government would love to curb the cost of diabetes there is also not enough evidence to support recommending Dr. Taylor’s approach. The US tends to be much more conservative than Europe when it comes to pioneering advances in medicine. A 600 calorie diet on the surface seems hard to sustain no matter how rich in nutrients the diet may be. That means that primary care physicians have to rely on the standard advice of increasing activity and losing weight to return sugar levels to normal. The low calorie diet may be more useful because it’s a shock to the system versus a gradual decline. Also conventional lifestyle changes are a bit of a catch-22. It becomes extremely difficult to lose weight when you’re insulin resistant making the problem worse. The problem is made even more challenging due to the issues caused by excess fat such as toxins and the secretion of other hormones that seek to keep the body fat.
If obesity is the symptom and not the cause of insulin resistance what do you do with that information? First and foremost develop a plan with a physician who specializes in metabolic disorders including diabetes. Chances are the whole system is out of whack. Rarely does one part of the body go haywire without impacting the others. Find out if a low calorie diet is for you by also working with a nutritionist. These diets aren’t unheard of because they are prescribed for those preparing to undergo weight loss surgeries, but may be frowned upon for the general public for solid reasons. Help your body out by reducing stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, also works against weight loss. Increase your muscle mass. Muscles require more energy and burn more calories at rest than fat. Increasing muscle mass ups the body’s energy needs and encourages the system to produce the required energy.
If the pancreas is the secret to insulin resistance prevent it by maintaining a healthy diet. The body decides where to put fat, it’s not like you have any control over that, but you do have control over what you put in and do with your body. If Dr. Taylor’s research is correct fat around the pancreas, even if you’re slightly overweight, can lead to insulin resistance. Even more reason to know your numbers and keep your health in check.
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About the author. Nile Harris, the Chief Chick, is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.