There is growing evidence that suggests reversing diabetes can be done and even prevented through changes in diet and lifestyle. In this document, we will discuss the basics of diabetes, its causes and risk factors, as well as proven strategies for managing and even reversing this disease with a whole food plant-based diet.
According to the World Health Organization, diabetes affects about 422 million people globally, with the majority of cases found in low and middle-income countries. This chronic disease has become a global health problem and is only expected to increase in prevalence in the coming years.
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How Plant-Based Diets Help Reverse Diabetes
While there is currently no known cure for diabetes, type 2 diabetes can be effectively managed and even reversed through lifestyle changes and healthy eating habits. One of the most effective ways to do this is by adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet.
A plant-based diet for diabetes, often thought of as a vegan, vegetarian, or Mediterranean diet, is rich in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, while low in processed foods and animal products. A strictly “whole food” plant-based diet is irving to be the most effective method
According to research conducted by Plos Medicine, plant-based diets were associated with improved glycemic control in individuals with type 2 diabetes. This is likely due to the higher intake of fiber, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which are low in fat and calories but high in essential vitamins and minerals. The diets also help with weight loss, which is crucial for managing and reversing type 2 diabetes.
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Further, MDPI reports that plant-based diets are effective in reducing insulin resistance, decreasing both fasting and postprandial glucose levels, and improving lipid profile and blood pressure. These improvements can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes complications.
In addition to improving glycemic control, a plant-based diet can also help prevent and manage other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. By focusing on whole plant foods and reducing or eliminating processed foods, individuals with diabetes can improve their overall health and well-being.
It’s important to note that while a plant-based diet can greatly benefit those with diabetes, it should not replace any prescribed medication or treatment plan. It’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet.
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What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which the body either does not produce enough insulin or does not effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and allows cells to utilize glucose for energy. Without enough insulin, glucose builds up in the blood and can cause various health problems.
Glucose, or sugar, is mainly derived from carbohydrates. It serves as the main source of energy for our body. Once we consume carbohydrates, our body breaks them down into glucose, which is then transported through the bloodstream to reach all the cells in our body. These cells utilize glucose as fuel to carry out various functions and activities. Essentially, glucose acts as the go-to energy source for our body’s cells, powering us throughout the day.
Insulin is like the ‘key’ that helps unlock the cells in your body, allowing them to absorb and use the glucose for energy. When there’s not enough insulin or your body isn’t responding to it, the glucose builds up in your bloodstream, causing high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia).
There are several types of diabetes, but the most common are type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This results in little to no production of insulin, requiring individuals with type 1 diabetes to take insulin injections for the rest of their lives.
In contrast, type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a metabolic disorder characterized by insulin resistance, meaning the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin in an attempt to lower blood sugar levels. Over time, this can exhaust the pancreas and lead to decreased insulin production. Type 2 diabetes is also strongly linked to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. While genetics may play a role, lifestyle factors are the primary cause of type 2 diabetes.
Other Types of Diabetes
- Gestational diabetes: Occurs during pregnancy and usually resolves after childbirth, but increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
- LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults): A slower-progressing form of type 1 diabetes that is often misdiagnosed as type 2.
- MODY (maturity-onset diabetes of the young): A rare form of diabetes caused by a genetic mutation and typically diagnosed before age 25.
- Secondary diabetes: A form of diabetes that develops as a result of other health conditions or medication use.
Causes and Risk Factors for Diabetes
The risk factors for type 1 and type 2 diabetes differ. Type 1 diabetes is mainly genetic, with certain environmental triggers possibly playing a role in its development. Family members of individuals with the condition may undergo testing to determine if they have diabetes immune system cells, also known as autoantibodies. The presence of these autoantibodies indicates an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes, although not everyone who has them will necessarily develop diabetes.
On the other hand, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable by making healthy lifestyle changes. It is largely influenced by lifestyle factors, including:
- Obesity – Excess weight, particularly around the midsection
- Sedentary lifestyle
- A diet high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats
- Family history
- Age, particularly above 45 years
- Certain ethnicities, including African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Native Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders, have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Consequences of Diabetes
Complications from diabetes happen gradually. The longer you have diabetes and the less you control your blood sugar levels, the higher the chances of experiencing complications. Eventually, high blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels and nerves in your eyes, kidneys, heart, and other organs. Some of the common complications of diabetes include:
- Cardiovascular disease: Diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.
- Nerve damage (neuropathy): High blood sugar levels can damage the nerves in your body, causing numbness, tingling, or pain. If left untreated, nerve damage can lead to serious complications such as foot infections and even amputations.
- Kidney disease: Diabetes can damage the small blood vessels in the kidneys, leading to kidney disease or even failure.
- Eye problems: High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in your eyes, causing vision problems or even blindness.
- Skin conditions: Skin infections, especially on the feet, make it essential to take good care of foot hygiene and visit a podiatrist regularly.