The link between Diabetes and poor blood-sugar control to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia goes much deeper than just high fasting blood sugar and other individual risk factors.
In fact now, globally recognized physician Dr. Mark Hyman, MD has coined the term Diabesity to describe the physiological "lead-up" to Diabetes and Obesity in this country.
Just the mere presence of risk factors is already enough to increase your risk for later health problems.
So if you've tacked on an extra 10-15 pounds over the last few years, despite your bloodwork looking "normal", this article is for you.
It's like my old Little League baseball coach used to say, "If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated".
It is no longer safe to "wait" for a diagnosis to take action toward your health.
Clinical Nutrition Goes Mainstream
As the medical model shifts to address chronic health problems in our country, we will start seeing nutrition take on a greater role in the health system.
We might, for instance, see more drugs like Lovaza arrive on the market.
Lovaza became a “blockbuster” drug by surpassing $1 billion in sales.
What makes Lovaza so special is that it is actually a patented form of fish oil, already widely available (at differing quality) through natural health professionals, vitamin shops, and even your local grocery store.
It's labeled for use to lower triglycerides, often associated with poor blood sugar management and high risk for cardiovascular disease.
New drugs like Lovaza may be harbingers for a growing integrative healthcare model that aims to put a dent in chronic health problems such as obesity, insulin resistance and Diabetes.
I've written previously on other Herbal Approaches for Stress Relief and Blood Sugar Health.
What Happened to "Eat this, Not That?"
While it can be easy to point the finger to limitations of current "treatment", standard nutrition advice over the last 20-30 years has not been so helpful either...
Nutrition advice for blood sugar related problems like obesity, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and diabetes have focused on a “calories in, calories out”, “eat in moderation”, and “there is no bad food” model.
I personally feel that this reflects successful lobbying from key players in the food industry, not sound nutrition advice.
Let’s take a brief glance at a few private and public nutrition education campaigns...
- Coca-Cola, Merck, and others support a national “Exercise is Medicine” campaign.
- Hershey, Inc .has a “Moderation Nation” campaign.
- Both Coca-Cola and Hershey are primary sponsors of the former American Dietetic Association, now known as the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics.
- The United States government also has their “Let’s Move” campaign that started off great, but has been criticized for bending to food industry interests and focusing less on food and more on physical activity as the 2012 election season heats up.
- Eligible foods on the USDA’s “food stamp” or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) include bakery cakes, soft drinks, candy, snack crackers and ice cream.
Although these programs have made significant contributions to the war on obesity and food insecurity, why does the focus always seem somewhat shifted away from food?
The New War on Sugar
A recent February 2012 report from Nature, one of the most prestigious journals in the world called attention to sugar as potentially “toxic” and “addictive”, and based on the evidence, proposed that added sugars be regulated and taxed like alcohol.
Not surprisingly, the news was received with mixed enthusiasm: food advocates cheered the article and food industry advocates jeered at its implications.
My intent is not to spur political debate, but to highlight recent advances in research suggesting that weight problems and insulin resistance go beyond just an issue of “calories in, calories out”.
1. Sugar is biologically addictive.
Arguably, those “addicted” to sugar experience similar withdrawal signs and symptoms, and may rationalize their behavior despite receiving negative pressure from close friends and family, or even being diagnosed with life-threatening health problems like Diabetes.
Highly rewarding and “palatable” foods high in sugar, fat, and salt hijack brain regulatory systems and trigger higher intake of food.
2. Aggressive and Misleading Food Marketing to Children (also Adults):
Food behaviors are often rooted in the early years of life. Some experts believe that some 95% of our subconscious patterning is developed before the ages of 5-6.
Now that research is showing added sugars to be inherently addictive, it brings up ethical questions when it comes to protecting our children during key developmental periods, while maintaining freedom of parental choice.
Not an easy-going political situation for sure.
Considering the biologically addictive qualities of “added” sugars, it is my personal and professional opinion that instituting a sugar tax, similar to taxes on alcohol or tobacco, is the most logical way to simultaneously decrease consumption, protect consumer choice, and fund programs/policies that increase availability and affordability of healthy foods. But it's not my job to make policy decisions, but just to acknowledge for my clients that cost significantly (but not exclusively) affects food choices.
My recent review on creating healthy habits shows that increasing education and awareness simply do not work to change behavior.
Instead, triggers like cost, taste and convenience are key factors to food choices (3).
A "sugar tax" has political ramifications, BUT it's an evidence-based option rooted in biological and behavioral sciences. The best way to affect change is with your wallet - and that's done by not purchasing items with added sugar in the first place.
3. Stress Imbalance:
Whether from physical, emotional, or chemical causes, stress may aggravate insulin resistance.
Those with a high degree of stress imbalance are at risk for fluctuations in blood sugar control. Cortisol, one of the body’s primary stress hormones, is independently correlated with insulin resistance.
If you are skipping meals, binging on high-sugar snacks, or even working out at high intensity more than 1-2+ times/week without proper recovery, you may be aggravating your body’s stress response, and indirectly, your body's ability to control blood sugar properly.
As a result, you may already be experiencing hypoglycemic, low blood sugar symptoms, as well as fatigue, weight gain, and other pre-diabetic symptoms.
I believe personally and professionally that the hidden stress component of blood sugar-related health problems is a dangerously overlooked and a critical piece of the puzzle.
4. Hidden Inflammation:
Chronic underlying inflammation, as well as bacterial, viral or parasitic infections can aggravate the body’s stress response, suppress the immune system, and may further aggravate blood sugar regulation.
Unidentified food allergies and sensitivities to certain foods such as wheat and milk may also be a source of hidden inflammation.
5. High Insulin Levels:
When you spike insulin levels, you can aggravate the balance of key hormones:
a. Sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone: which could lead to mild complications such as acne, but may aggravate deeper problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is the number one cause of infertility in women in associated with both blood sugar dysregulation and sex hormone imbalance.
b. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine: Surges of insulin (typically as a result of foods high in simple & refined sugars) create a satisfying surge in serotonin, after 20-30 minutes this surge subsides, imbalances in serotonin and dopamine may remain. These imbalances may affect mood and appetite control.
6. Internal and Environmental Toxicity:
Most people are unaware that we have some three pounds of healthy bacteria that line our digestive system. Likewise, many are unaware that unhealthy bugs can take their place.
When these healthy bacteria are replaced by unhealthy bacteria and yeasts (partly because of high sugar, high-processed food diets), the body is burdened with their wastes which has been shown to directly contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance and the development of diabetes.
Widespread use of pesticides, herbicides, plasticizers, air pollution and more are increasingly linked to insulin resistance and development of type II diabetes even at low doses.
The low-dose health effects of man-made pollutants is a growing concern with a solid backing of research behind it - particularly with a link of these chemicals to Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance.
As the research grows, it's becoming clear that standards for many chemicals may be too weak. For instance, because of persistent consumer push, the FDA will again publish a report in the upcoming weeks on the legal future for Bisphenol-A (BPA).
You Already Hold the Keys to Your Health
It's a bit scary to take responsibility for your health. There's a lot of unknowns as you venture into trying new recipes and getting back in touch with real food (you know, the stuff that comes from plants and animals, not a chemical laboratory).
I get that it can be easy to feel anxious and overwhelmed. There are so many resources at your disposal, and you do not have to be alone.
But remind yourself to be a consumer in your health care.
Healthcare is still a business run by humans. It's important to learn how to ask better questions.
If you're not getting satisfying answers, seek a second, third, or in some cases a twelfth opinion. This is how movements are born.
You probably know at least one small thing you can do differently today to improve your health. If you can't do it today, it's not small enough!
Fancy results do not always necessitate fancy treatments.
Get to work!