A Solution For Diabetes: A Vegan Diet
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KF: What causes diabetes?
NB: Normally, the cells of the body use the simple sugar glucose as fuel, the way a car uses gasoline. Glucose comes from starchy or sweet foods we eat, and the hormone insulin escorts it into the muscle cells to power our movements. Glucose also passes into our brain cells to power our thoughts. In type 2 diabetes, the cells resist insulin's action, so glucose has trouble getting into the cells.
KF: What happens to the body when one develops diabetes? What's the fallout?
NB: If glucose can't get into the cells, it builds up in the blood. It is as if gasoline coming out of a gas pump somehow can't get into your gas tank, and it ends up spilling over the side of your car, coming in through your car windows, and dribbling all over the pavement. It is a dangerous situation. The abnormally high levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream are toxic to the blood vessels, especially the tiny blood vessels of the eyes, the kidneys, the extremities, and the heart.
KF: Is it really that serious, or can we just take a drug for it?
NB: A person with diabetes loses more than a decade of life, on average; about three-quarters will die prematurely of a heart attack. It is also a leading cause of blindness, amputations, and loss of kidney function. Many drugs are available, from insulin to oral medications and an ever-increasing variety of other medications. In order to protect the heart, many patients are also put on medications to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. A person with diabetes who walks into my office is typically using $3,000 to $5,000 worth of medications each year. And yet these medications only slow the progression of the disease; many people have serious complications despite being on medications.
Let me emphasize that this grim scenario does not have to occur. If an unhealthy diet is the cause, a better diet can provide the answer to this problem.
KF: How can we avoid it?
NB: The key is to help our body's insulin to work normally. So long as your body's insulin can escort glucose into the cells normally, diabetes will not occur. The resistance to insulin that leads to diabetes appears to be caused by a build-up of fat inside the muscle cells and also inside the liver. Let me draw an analogy: I arrive home from work one day, and put my key in my front door lock. But I notice the key does not turn properly, and the door does not open. Peering inside the lock, I see that someone has jammed chewing gum into the lock. Now, if the insulin "key" cannot open up the cell to glucose, there is something interfering with it. It's not chewing gum, of course. The problem is fat. In the same way that chewing gum in a lock makes it hard to open your front door, fat particles inside muscle cells interfere with insulin's efforts to open the cell to glucose. This fat comes from beef, chicken, fish, cooking oils, dairy products, etc. The answer is to avoid these fatty foods. People who avoid all animal products obviously get no animal fat at all, they appear to have much less fat build-up inside their cells, and their risk of diabetes is extremely low. Minimizing vegetable oils helps, too.
And we can go beyond prevention. When people who already have diabetes adopt a low-fat vegan diet, their condition often improves dramatically. In our research, funded by the U.S. Government, we found that a vegan diet is more effective than a traditional current diabetes diet, and is much safer than a low-carb diet.