Category Archives: Prediabetes

Should People With Diabetes Restrict Carbohydrates?

MB900402413Dr. John Rollo (a surgeon in the British Royal Artillery) in 1797 published a book, An Account of Two Cases of the Diabetes Mellitus. He discussed his experience treating a diabetic Army officer, Captain Meredith, with a high-fat, high-meat, low-carbohydrate diet. Mind you, this was an era devoid of effective drug therapies for diabetes.

The soldier apparently had type 2 diabetes rather than type 1.

Rollo’s diet led to loss of excess weight (original weight 232 pounds or 105 kg), elimination of symptoms such as frequent urination, and reversal of elevated blood and urine sugars.

This makes Dr. Rollo the original low-carb diabetic diet doctor. Many of the leading proponents of low-carb eating over the last two centuries—whether for diabetes or weight loss—have been physicians.

But is carbohydrate restriction a reasonable approach to diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2?

What’s the Basic Problem in Diabetes?

Diabetes and prediabetes always involve impaired carbohydrate metabolism: ingested carbs are not handled by the body in a healthy fashion, leading to high blood sugars and, eventually, poisonous complications.  In type 1 diabetes, the cause is a lack of insulin from the pancreas.  In type 2, the problem is usually a combination of insulin resistance and ineffective insulin production.

Elevated blood pressure is one component of metabolic syndrome

Elevated blood pressure is one component of metabolic syndrome

A cousin of type 2 diabetes is “metabolic syndrome.”  It’s a constellation of clinical factors that are associated with increased future risk of type 2 diabetes and atherosclerotic complications such as heart attack and stroke. One in six Americans has metabolic syndrome. Diagnosis requires at least three of the following five conditions:

■  high blood pressure (130/85 or higher, or using a high blood pressure medication)

■  low HDL cholesterol:  under 40 mg/dl (1.03 mmol/l) in a man, under 50 mg/dl (1.28 mmol/l) in a women (or either sex taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)

■  triglycerides over 150 mg/dl (1.70 mmol/l) (or taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)

■  abdominal fat:  waist circumference 40 inches (102 cm) or greater in a man, 35 inches (89 cm) or greater in a woman

■  fasting blood glucose over 100 mg/dl (5.55 mmol/l)

Metabolic syndrome and simple obesity often involve impaired carbohydrate metabolism. Over time, excessive carbohydrate consumption can turn obesity and metabolic syndrome into prediabetes, then type 2 diabetes.

Carbohydrate restriction directly addresses impaired carbohydrate metabolism naturally.

Carbohydrate Intolerance

Diabetics and prediabetics—plus many folks with metabolic syndrome—must remember that their bodies do not, and cannot, handle dietary carbohydrates in a normal, healthy fashion. In a way, carbs are toxic to them. Toxicity may lead to amputations, blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, poor circulation, frequent infections, premature heart attacks and death, among other things.

Diabetics and prediabetics simply don’t tolerate carbs in the diet like other people. If you don’t tolerate something, you have to give it up, or at least cut way back on it. Lactose-intolerant individuals give up milk and other lactose sources. Celiac disease patients don’t tolerate gluten, so they give up wheat and other sources of gluten. One of every five high blood pressure patients can’t handle normal levels of salt in the diet; they have to cut back or their pressure’s too high. Patients with phenylketonuria don’t tolerate phenylalanine and have to restrict foods that contain it. If you’re allergic to penicillin, you have to give it up. If you don’t tolerate carbs, you have to give them up or cut way back. I’m sorry.

Carbohydrate restriction directly addresses impaired carbohydrate metabolism naturally.

But Doc, …?

1.  Why not just take more drugs to keep my blood sugars under control while eating all the carbs I want?

We have 12 classes of drugs to treat diabetes.  For most of these classes, we have little or no idea of the long-term consequences.  It’s a crap shoot.  The exceptions are insulin and metformin.  Several big-selling drugs have been taken off the market due to unforeseen side effects.  Others are sure to follow, but I can’t tell you which ones.  Adjusting insulin dose based on meal-time carb counting is popular.  Unfortunately, carb counts are not nearly as accurate as you might think; and the larger the carb amount, the larger the carb-counting and drug-dosing errors.

2.  If I reduce my carb consumption, won’t I be missing out on healthful nutrients from fruits and vegetables?

No.  Choosing low-carb fruits and vegetables will get you all the plant-based nutrients you need.  You may well end up eating more veggies and fruits than before you switched to low-carb eating.  Low-carb and paleo-style diets are unjustifiably criticized across-the-board as being meat-centric and deficient in plants.  Some are, but that’s not necessarily the case.

3.  Aren’t vegetarian and vegan diets just as good?

Maybe.  There’s some evidence that they’re better than standard diabetic diets.  My personal patients are rarely interested in vegetarian or vegan diets, so I’ve not studied them in much detail.  They tend to be rich in carbohydrates, so you may run into the drug and carb-counting issues in Question No. 1.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS:  The American Diabetes Association recommends weight loss for all overweight diabetics. Its 2011 guidelines suggest three possible diets: “For weight loss, either low-carbohydrate [under 130 g/day], low-fat calorie-restricted, or Mediterranean diets may be effective in the short-term (up to two years).”  The average American adult eats 250–300 grams of carbohydrate daily.

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Filed under Carbohydrate, Causes of Diabetes, Prediabetes

Can Prediabetes Be Cured?

Nurse Jean Jeffers writes about one person’s cure for prediabetes. Much of it makes sense to me and is consistent with the scientific literature. Ms. Jeffers is a bit too alarmist about prediabetes complications, so don’t let that scare you. But this is scary: half of Americans over 65 have prediabetes. An edited quote:

Some of Dot’s very doable ways to help with prediabetes include:

1.      Experiment with a variety of new fruits in your diet.

2.      Experiment with new vegetables. Try one new one every week or so.

6.      Make the five-percent resolution: Resolve to lose five percent of your body weight. You’ll be surprised at the benefits. Then lose another five percent.

8.      Walk for fun, with friends, or in solitude. Some individuals meditate while walking.

10.   Go light on carbohydrates in your meals. Eat dessert maybe only one time per week.

The bit about losing 5% of you body weight usually only applies if you have excess fat to begin with.

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Filed under Prediabetes, Uncategorized

Periodic Tests, Treatments, and Goals for PWDs (Persons With Diabetes)

If you don't like your physician, find a new one

If you don’t like your physician, find a new one

So, you’ve got diabetes. You’re trying to deal with it or you wouldn’t be here. You’ve got a heck of a lot of medical information to master.

Unless you have a good diabetes specialist physician on your team, you may not be getting optimal care. Below are some guidelines you may find helpful. The goal is to prevent diabetes complications. Many primary care physicians will not be up-to-date on the guidelines. Don’t hesitate to discuss them with your doctor. Nobody cares as much about your health as you do.

Annual Tests

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends the following items be done yearly (except as noted) in non-pregnant adults with diabetes. (Incidentally, I don’t necessarily agree with all ADA guidelines.) The complete ADA guidelines are available on the Internet.

  • Lipid profile (every two years if results are fine and stable)
  • Comprehensive foot exam
  • Screening test for distal symmetric polyneuropathy: pinprick, vibration, monofilament pressure sense
  • Serum creatinine and estimate of glomerular filtration rate (MDRD equation)
  • Test for albumin in the urine, such as measurement of albumin-to-creatinine ratio in a random spot urine specimen
  • Comprehensive eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist (if exam is normal, every two or three years is acceptable)
  • Hemoglobin A1c at least twice a year, but every three months if therapy has changed or glucose control is not at goal
  • Flu shots

Other Vaccinations, Weight Loss, Diabetic Diet, Prediabetes, Alcohol, Exercise, Etc.

Additionally, the 2013 ADA guidelines recommend:

  • Pneumococcal vaccination. “A one time re-vaccination is recommended for individuals >64 years of age previously immunized when they were <65 years of age if the vaccine was administered >5 years ago.” Also repeat the vaccination after five years for patients with nephrotic syndrome, chronic kidney disease, other immunocompromised states (poor ability to fight infection), or transplantation.
  • Hepatitis B vaccination to unvaccinated adults who are 19 through 59 years of age.
  • Weight loss for all overweight diabetics. “For weight loss, either low-carbohydrate, low-fat calorie-restricted, or Mediterranean diets may be effective in the short-term (up to two years).” For those on low-carb diets, monitor lipids, kidney function, and protein consumption, and adjust diabetic drugs as needed. The optimal macronutrient composition of weight loss diets has not been established. (Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.)
  • “The mix of carbohydrate, protein, and fat may be adjusted to meet the metabolic goals and individual preferences of the person with diabetes.” “It must be clearly recognized that regardless of the macronutrient mix, total caloric intake must be appropriate to weight management goal.”
  • “A variety of dietary meal patterns are likely effective in managing diabetes including Mediterranean-style, plant-based (vegan or vegetarian), low-fat and lower-carbohydrate eating patterns.”
  • “Monitoring carbohydrate, whether by carbohydrate counting, choices, or experience-based estimation, remains a key strategy in achieving glycemic control.”
  • Limit alcohol to one (women) or two (men) drinks a day.
  • Limit saturated fat to less than seven percent of calories.
  • During the initial diabetic exam, screen for peripheral arterial disease (poor circulation). Strongly consider calculation of the ankle-brachial index for those over 50 years of age; consider it for younger patients if they have risk factors for poor circulation.
  • Those at risk for diabetes, including prediabetics, should aim for moderate weight loss (about seven percent of body weight) if overweight. Either low-carbohydrate, low-fat calorie-restricted, or Mediterranean diets may be effective in the short-term (up to 2 years). Also important is exercise: at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. “Individuals at risk for type 2 diabetes should be encouraged to achieve the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendation for dietary fiber (14 g fiber/1,000 kcal) and foods containing whole grains (one-half of grain intake).” Limit intake of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • “Adults with diabetes should be advised to perform at least 150 min/week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (50–70% of maximum heart rate), spread over at least 3 days/week with no more than two consecutive days without exercise. In the absence of contraindications, adults with type 2 diabetes should be encouraged to perform resistance training at least twice per week.”
  • Screening for coronary artery disease before an exercise program is depends on the physician judgment on a case-by-case basis. Routine screening is not recommended.
Steve Parker MD, low-carb diet, diabetic diet

Olive, olive oil, and vinegar: classic Mediterranean foods

Obviously, some of my dietary recommendations conflict with ADA guidelines. The experts assembled by the ADA to compose guidelines were well-intentioned, intelligent, and hard-working. The guidelines are supported by 528 scientific journal references. I greatly appreciate the expert panel’s work. We’ve simply reached some different conclusions. By the same token, I’m sure the expert panel didn’t have unanimous agreement on all the final recommendations. I invite you to review the dietary guidelines yourself, discuss with your personal physician, then decide where you stand.

General Blood Glucose Treatment Goals

The ADA in 2013 suggests these therapeutic goals for non-pregnant adults:

  • Fasting blood glucoses: 70 to 130 mg/dl (3.9 to 7.2 mmol/l)
  • Peak glucoses one to two hours after start of meals: under 180 mg/dl (10 mmol/l)
  • Hemoglobin A1C: under 7%
  • Blood pressure: under 140/80 mmHg
  • LDL cholesterol: under 100 mg/dl (2.6 mmol/l). (In established cardiovascular disease: <70 mg/dl or 1.8 mmol/l may be a better goal.)
  • HDL cholesterol: over 40 mg/dl (1.0 mmol/l) for men and over 50 mg/dl (1.3 mmol/l) for women
  • Triglycerides: under 150 mg/dl (1.7 mmol/l)

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) in 2011 proposed somewhat “tighter” blood sugar goals for non-pregnant adults:

  • Fasting blood glucoses: under 110 mg/dl (6.11 mmol/l)
  • Peak glucoses 2 hours after start of meals: under 140 mg/dl (7.78 mmol/l)
  • Hemoglobin A1C: 6.5% or less

The ADA reminds clinicians, and I’m sure the AACE guys agree, that diabetes control goals should be individualized, based on age and life expectancy of the patient, duration of diabetes, other diseases that are present, individual patient preferences, and whether the patient is able to easily recognize and deal with hypoglycemia. I agree completely.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Filed under Diabetes Complications, Exercise, Fat in Diet, Fiber, Mediterranean Diet, Overweight and Obesity, Prediabetes, Prevention of T2 Diabetes

What’s Metabolic Syndrome?

metabolic syndrome, low-carb diet, diabetes, prediabetes

He’s at high risk for metabolic syndrome

“Metabolic syndrome” may be a new term for you. It’s a constellation of clinical factors that are associated with increased future risk of type 2 diabetes and atherosclerotic complications such as heart attack and stroke. One in six Americans has metabolic syndrome. Diagnosis requires at least three of the following five conditions:

  • high blood pressure (130/85 or higher, or using a high blood pressure medication)
  • low HDL cholesterol:  under 40 mg/dl (1.03 mmol/l) in a man, under 50 mg/dl (1.28 mmol/l) in a women (or either sex taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)
  • triglycerides over 150 mg/dl (1.70 mmol/l) (or taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)
  • abdominal fat:  waist circumference 40 inches (102 cm) or greater in a man, 35 inches (89 cm) or greater in a woman
  • fasting blood glucose over 100 mg/dl (5.55 mmol/l)

What To Do About It

Metabolic syndrome and simple excess weight often involve impaired carbohydrate metabolism. Over time, excessive carbohydrate consumption can turn overweight and metabolic syndrome into prediabetes, then type 2 diabetes.  Carbohydrate restriction directly addresses impaired carbohydrate metabolism naturally. When my patients have metabolic syndrome, some of my recommendations are:

  • weight loss, often via a low-carb diet
  • low-carb diet if blood sugars are elevated
  • regular exercise, with a combination of strength and aerobic training

If these work, the patient can often avoid costly drugs and their potential adverse effects.

Ask your doctor what she thinks.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Filed under Causes of Diabetes, Prediabetes

Prediabetes and Diabetes on the Rise in U.S. Adolescents, Doubling in a Decade

The June, 2012, issue of Pediatrics has an article stating that the incidence of diabetes and prediabetes in U.S. adolescents increased from 9% in 1999 to 23% in 2008.  The finding is based on the NHANES survey of 12 to 19-year-olds, which included a single fasting blood sugar determination.

The investigators offered no solution to the problem.  I’m no pediatrician, but my guess is that the following measures would help prevent adolescent type 2 diabetes and prediabetes:

  • more exercise
  • eat less sugar and refined starches
  • keep body weight in the healthy range
I’m sure many of the adolescent type 2 diabetics and prediabetics are overweight or obese.  A 2010 study out of Colorado found a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet safe and effective for adolescents.  Fortunately, the decades-long ascent of the adolescent obesity rate in the U.S. seems to have peaked for now.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: I scanned the article quickly and don’t remember if the researchers broke down the diabetes cases by type 1 and type 2.  I’d be shocked if type 1 diabetes rose this much over the last decade.

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Filed under DM Prevalence, Prediabetes