Tag Archives: Mediterranean Diet

Nutty Treatment for Diabetes

Mixed Nuts Improve Diabetes

Eating nuts improves blood sugar control and cholesterol levels in type 2 diabetics, according to a recent research report in Diabetes Care.

Canadian researchers randomized 117 type 2 diabetics to eat their usual types of food, but also to be sure to eat either

  •  mixed nuts (about 2 ounces a day)
  •  muffins (I figure one a day)
  • or  half portions of each. 

They did this daily for three months.  Compared to the muffin group, the full nut group ate quite a bit more monounsaturated fatty acids.  (I don’t have full study details because I have access only to the article abstract.)


Hemoglobin A1c, a reliable measure of blood sugar control, fell by 0.21% in the mixed nut group.  That’s a move in the right direction.  LDL cholesterol, the “bad cholesterol” linked to heart and vascular disease, also dropped significantly. 

So What?

The investigators suggest that replacement of certain carbohydrates with 2 ounces of daily mixed nuts is good for people with type 2 diabetes.

I must mention that nuts are  a mandatory component of the Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet  and the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet, and a recommended option on the Advanced Mediterranean Diet

Steve Parker, M.D.

References:  Jenkins, David J.A., et al.  Nuts as a replacement for carbohydrates in the diabetic dietDiabetes Care, June 29, 2011.  doi: 10.2337/dc11-0338

PS: The lead author of this study is the same David Jenkins of glycemic index fame.


Filed under ketogenic diet, nuts

Mediterranean Diet for Diabetes

In 2009, Current Diabetes Reports published “The usefulness of a Mediterranean-based diet in individuals with type 2 diabetes,” by Catherine M. Champagne, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N.  Unfortunately, the full article isn’t available to you at no cost.  But I read it.  Her article is a review of available scientific evidence related to the Mediterranean diet as applied to a diabetic population.  Here’s a quote:

This diet is a viable treatment option; advisors should stress not only adherence to a fairly traditional Mediterranean eating plan but also a lifestyle that includes sufficient physical activity.

I’ve been publishing my series on exercise here in dribs and drabs for the last several months.

Dr. Champagne was very favorably impressed with the DIRECT trial of Shai et al, which I covered extensively elsewhere.  DIRECT compared three diets over 24 months: Atkins, Mediterranean/calorie-restricted, and low-fat/calorie-restricted.  Mind you, it was a weight loss study, but a fair number of diabetics participated.  Mediterranean-style eating showed the most beneficial effects for diabetics. 

The author also mentions evidence that a modified Mediterranean diet may help counteract the build-up of fat in the liver, seen in up to 70% of type 2 diabetics.  I wrote recently about how a very-low-carb diet beat the low-fat diet so often recommended for this condition (hepatic steatosis or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).

ResearchBlogging.orgIf you want full online access to Champagne’s 6-page article, you can purchase it for $34 (USD) at SpringerLink.  I cite many of the same scientific sources and provide a whole lot more in my 216-page Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet, at Amazon.com for $16.95 or $9.99 (the Kindle edition) or in multiple ebook formats from Smashwords.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Champagne, Catherine (2009). The usefulness of a Mediterranean-based diet in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Current Diabetes Reports DOI: 10.1007/s11892-009-0060-3

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Filed under Health Benefits, Mediterranean Diet, Shameless Self-Promotion

Book Review: Zest For Life – The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet

I recently read Zest For Life: The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet, by Conner Middelmann-Whitney.  I give it five stars per Amazon.com’s rating system.

♦   ♦   ♦

The lifetime risk of developing invasive cancer in the U.S. is four in ten: a little higher for men, a little lower for women.  Those are scary odds.  Cancer is second only to heart disease as a cause of death in western societies.  The Mediterranean diet has a well established track record of protecting against cancers of the prostate, colon/rectum, uterus, and prostate.  Preliminary data suggest protection against melanoma and stomach cancer, too.  I’m not aware of any other way of eating that can make similar claims. 

So it makes great sense to spread the word on how to eat Mediterranean-style, to lower your risk of developing cancer.  Such is the goal of Ms. Conner Middelmann-Whitney.  The Mediterranean diet is mostly, although by no means excusively, plant-based.  It encourages consumption of natural, minimally processed, locally grown foods.  Generally, it’s rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, oive oil, whole grains, red wine, and nuts.  It’s low to moderate in meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt).

Note that one of the four longevity hot spots featured in Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones was Mediterranean: Sardinia.  All four Blue Zones were characterized by plant-based diets of minimally processed, locally grown foods.  (I argue that Okinawa and the Nicoya Peninsula dwellers ate little meat simply due to economic factors.)

Proper diet won’t prevent all cancer, but perhaps 10-20% of common cancer cases, such as prostate, breast, colorectal, and uterine cancer.  A natural, nutrient-rich, mostly plant-based diet seems to bolster our defense against cancer.

Ms. Middelmann-Whitney is no wacko claiming you can cure your cancer with the right diet modifications.  She writes, “…I do not advocate food as a cancer treatment once the disease has declared itself….” 

She never brings it up herself, but I detect a streak of paleo diet advocacy in her.  Several of her references are from Loren Cordain, one of the gurus of the modern paleo diet movement.  She also mentions the ideas of Michael Pollan very favorably.

She’s not as high on whole grains as most of the other current nutrition writers.  She points out that, calorie for calorie, whole grains are not as nutrient-rich as vegetables and fruits.  Speaking of which, she notes that veggies generally have more nutrients than fruits.  Furthermore, she says, grain-based flours probably contribute to overweight and obesity.  She suggests that many people eat too many grains and would benefit by substituting more nutrient-rich foods, such as veggies and fruits.

Some interesting things I learned were 1) the 10 most dangerous foods to eat while driving, 2) the significance of organized religion in limiting meat consumption in some Mediterranean regions, 3) we probably eat too many omega-6 fatty acids, moving the omega-6/omega-3 ratio away from the ideal of 2:1 or 3:1, 4) one reason nitrites are added to processed meats is to create an pleasing red color (they impair bacterial growth, too), 5) fresh herbs are better added towards the end of cooking, whereas dried herbs can be added earlier, 6) 57% of calories in western societies are largely “empty calories:” refined sugar, flour, and industrially processed vegetable oils,  and 7) refined sugar consumption in the U.S. was 11 lb (5 kg) per person in the 1830s, rising to 155 lb (70 kg) by 2000.

Any problems with the book?  The font size is a bit small for me; if that worries you, get the Kindle edition and choose your size.  She mentions that omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids as “essential” fats. I bet she meant to say that linolenic and linoleic fatty acids are essential (our bodies can’t make them); linolenic happens to be an omega-3, linoleic is an omega-6.  Reference #8 in chapter three is missing.  She states that red and processed meats cause cancer, or at least are strongly linked; in my view, the studies are inconclusive.  I’m not sure that cooking in or with polyunsaturated plant oils causes formation of free radicals that we need to worry about.

As would be expected, the author and I don’t see eye to eye on everything.  For example, she worries about bisphenol-A, pesticide residue, saturated fat, excessive red meat consumption, and strongly prefers pastured beef and free-range chickens and eggs.  I don’t worry.  She also subscribes to the “precautionary principle.”

The author shares over 150 recipes to get you started on your road to cancer prevention.  I easily found 15 I want to try.  She covers all the bases on shopping for food, cooking, outfitting a basic kitchen, dining out, shopping on a strict budget, etc.  Highly practical for beginning cooks.  Numerous scientific references are listed for you skeptics.

I recommend this book to all adults with normal carbohydrate metabolism, particularly for those with a strong family history of cancer.  But following the author’s recommendations would do more than lower your risk of cancer.  You’d likely have a longer lifespan, lose some excess fat weight,  and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, stroke, vision loss from macular degeneration, and obesity.  Particularly compared to the standard American diet. 

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclosure: The author arranged a free copy of the book for me, otherwise I recieved nothing of value for writing this review.


Filed under Book Reviews, cancer, Health Benefits, Mediterranean Diet

Penelope Cruz Touts Mediterranean Diet

Penelope Cruz credits the Mediterranean diet with helping her keep her weight under control, according to “The Times of India.”

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Heart Patients: Mediterranean Diet to the Rescue!

The Mediterranean diet preserves heart muscle performance and reduces future heart disease events, according to Greek researchers reporting in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 19, 2010.

Reuters and other news services have covered the story.

The Mediterranean diet is well-established as an eating pattern that reduces the risk of death or illness related to cardiovascular disease—mostly heart attacks and strokes. Most of the studies in support of the heart-healthy diet looked at development of disease in general populations. The study at hand examined whether the diet had any effect on patients with known heart disease, which has not been studied much.

How Was the Study Done?

The study population was 1,000 consecutive patients admitted with heart disease to a Greek hospital between 2006 and 2009. In this context, heart disease refers to a first or recurrent heart attack (70-80% of participants) or unstable angina pectoris. Acute heart attacks and unstable angina are “acute coronary syndromes.” Average age was 64. Sixty percent had a prior diagnosis of cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease or stroke). Thirty percent had diabetes. At the time of hospitalization, half had diminished function of the main heart pumping chamber (the left ventricle), half had normal pump function. Men totalled 788; women 212.

On the third hospital day, participants were given a 75-item food frequency questionnaire asking about consumption over the prior year. If a potential enrollee died in the first two hospital days, he was not included in the study. A Mediterranean diet score was calculated to determine adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Mediterranean diet items were nonrefined cereals and products, fruits, nuts, vegetables, potatoes, dairy products, fish and seafood, poultry, red meats and meat products, olive oil, and alcohol.

Left ventricle function was determined by echocardiogram (ultrasound) at the time of study entry, at the time of hospital discharge, and three months after discharge. Systolic dysfunction was defined as an ejection fraction of under 40%. [Normal is 65%: when the left ventricle is full of blood, and then squeezes on that blood to pump it into the aorta, 65% of the blood squirts out.]

Participants were then divided into two groups: preserved (normal) systolic left ventricular function, or diminished left ventricular function.

They were followed over the next two years, with attention to cardiovascular disease events (not clearly defined in the article, but I assume including heart attacks, strokes, unstable angina, coronary revascularization, heart failure, arrhythmia, and death from heart disease or stroke.


  • Four percent of participants died during the initial hospitalization.
  • At the three month follow-up visit, those with greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet (a high Mediterranean diet score) had higher left ventricular performance (P=0.02).
  • At the time of hospital admission, higher ejection fractions were associated with greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet (P<0.001).
  • Those who developed diminished left ventricular dysfunction had a lower Mediterranean diet score (P<0.001)
  • During the hospital stay, those in the highest third of Mediterranean diet score had lower in-hospital deaths (compared with the lower third scores) (P=0.009).
  • Among those who survived the initial hospitalization, there was no differences in fatal cardiovascular outcomes based on Mediterranean diet score.
  • Food-specific analysis tended to favor better cardiovascular health (at two-year follow-up) for those with higher “vegetable and salad” and nut consumption. No significant effect was found for other components of the Mediterranean diet score.
  • Of those in the highest third of Mediterranean adherence, 75% had avoided additional fatal and nonfatal cardiovasclar disease events as measured at two years. Of those in the lowest third of Mediterranean diet score, only 53% avoided additional cardiovascular disease events.

The Authors’ Conclusion

Greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet seems to preserve left ventricular systolic function and is associated with better long-term prognosis of patients who have had an acute coronary syndrome.

My Comments

I agree with the authors’ conclusion.

We’re assuming these patients didn’t change their way of eating after the initial hospitalization. We don’t know that. No information is given regarding dietary instruction of these patients while they were hospitalized. In the U.S., such instruction is usually given, and it varies quite a bit.

In this study, lower risk of cardiovascular death was linked to the Mediterranean diet only during the initial hospital stay. Most experts on the Mediterranean diet would have predicted lower cardiovascular death rates over the subsequent two years. Mysteriously, the authors don’t bother to discuss this finding.

For those who don’t enjoy red wine or other alcoholic beverages, this study suggests that the Mediterranean diet may be just as heart-healthy without alcohol. A 2009 study by Trichopoulou et al suggests otherwise.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Chrysohoou, C., et al. The Mediterranean diet contributes to the preservation of left ventricular systolic function and to the long-term favorable prognosis of patients who have had an acute coronary event.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010.  DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28982

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Filed under Alcohol, coronary heart disease, Health Benefits, Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet Linked to Fewer Strokes on MRI Scans

The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of strokes seen on brain MRI scans, according to a study earlier this year in Annals of Neurology

Brain researchers at various U.S. institutions studied a multi-ethnic population in upper Manhattan (the WHICAP cohort).  Average age of the  707 study participants was 80.  Baseline diet was determined by a questionairre.  A Mediterranean diet score was calculated to quantify adherence—or lack thereof—to the Mediterranean diet.  Participants without dementia at baseline underwent MRI scanning initially, then again an average of six years later.

What Did They Find?

One third of participants had MRI evidence for a stroke.  Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was linked to significantly lower odds of stroke.  Compared to those eating least like the Mediterranean diet, those with the highest adherence had 37% lower odds of an stroke being found on MRI scan.  Those with medium adherence had 20% lower odds.

So What?

This is the first study to show such an association between strokes on an MRI scan and the Mediterranean diet.  Be aware that you can find stroke on an MRI scan in someone who thought they were perfectly healthy; in other words a clinically silent stroke.  The authors note only one previous report finding lower risk of clinically obvious stroke with the Mediterranean diet, in women—I thought there were more. 

The same group of researchers had previously demonstrated that higher compliance with the Mediterranean diet is linked to lower risk of Alzheimers disease and mild cognitive impairment

If I wanted to protect my brain from stroke, I’d be sure follow a Mediterranean-style diet, keep my blood pressure under 140/90 mmHg, stay physically active, keep my weight under control, and not smoke. 

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Scarmeas, Nikolaos, et al.  Mediterranean diet and magnetic resonance imaging-assessed cerebrovascular disease.  Annals of Neurology, 69 (2011): 257-268.  doi: 10.1002/ana.22317

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Origins and Definition of the Mediterranean Diet


It all starts with Ancel  Keys.

Keys was the leader of the team who put together the Seven Countries Study, which seemed to demonstrate lower rates of coronary heart disease in countries consuming less saturated fat.  [Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in Western cultures.]  He also found that cardiovascular disease rates rose in tandem with blood cholesterol  levels.  The two countries particularly illustrative of these connections were Italy and Greece, both Mediterranean countries.

The other countries he analyzed in Seven Countries were the United States, Yugoslavia, Japan, Finland, and the Netherlands.

Keys and his wife Margaret, a biochemist, drilled deeper in to the “Mediterranean diet” that was characteristic of Italy, Greece, and other countries on or near the Mediterranean Sea in the 1950s and 1960s.  [“Diet” in this context refers to the usual  food and drink of a person, not a weight-loss program.]  Their efforts culminated in the publication of several best-selling Mediterranean diet books in the 1970s, and Keys’ photo on the cover of Time magazine in 1961.

Thus began the still-popular healthy Mediterranean diet.

Oldways Preservation Trust re-invigorated the Mediterranean diet around 1990, helping the public incorporate Mediterranean diet principals into everyday life.  Oldways founder, K. Dun Gifford, passed away within the last year.


There is no monolithic, immutable, traditional Mediterranean diet.  But there are similarities among many of the regional countries that tend to unite them, gastronomically speaking.  Greece and southern Italy are particularly influential in this context.

So here are the characteristics of the traditional Mediterranean diet  of the mid-20th century:

•It maximizes natural whole foods and minimizes highly processed ones

•Small amounts of red meat

•Less than four eggs per week

•Low to moderate amounts of poultry and fish

•Daily fresh fruit

•Seasonal locally grown foods with minimal processing

•Concentrated sugars only a few times per week

•Wine in low to moderate amounts, and usually taken at mealtimes

•Milk products (mainly cheese and yogurt) in low to moderate amounts

•Olive oil as the predominant fat

•Abundance of foods from plants: vegetables, fruits, beans, potatoes, nuts, seeds, breads and other whole grain products

•Naturally low in saturated fat, trans fats, and cholesterol

•Naturally high in fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins (e.g., folate), antioxidants, and minerals (especially when compared with concentrated, refined starches and sugars in a modern Western diet)

•Naturally high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, particularly as a replacement for saturated fats


Keys has been criticized for “cherry-picking” the data that linked saturated fat consumption with increased heart disease.  In other words, the allegation is that he used information if it supported his theory, while ignoring data that was contrary or neutral.  Subsequent studies indicate a weak link, if any, between saturated fat consumption and heart disease.  A list of the pertinent studies de-linking heart disease and saturated fat is at my Advanced Mediterranean Diet Blog.

The Seven Countries Study included only men.  It’s practical implications, therefore, may not apply to women.

The traditional Mediterranean diet is increasingly a thing of the past as Mediterranean countries adopt the Western diet characterized by “fast food” and highly processed foods.


Ever heard of K rations used by the U.S. military in World War II?  Keys invented them.  He earned Ph.D.s in biology and physiology.  Keys lived to age 100 and was said to be intellectually active through his 97th year.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS:  The Mediterranean diet has too many carbohydrates (55% of total energy) for for most people with diabetes.  Hence, the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet.


Keys, Ancel.  Coronary heart disease in seven countries.  Circulation, 41, (1970) supplement I: I-1 through I-211.

Keys, Ancel.  Seven Countries:  A Multivariate Analysis of Death and Coronary Artery Disease.  Harvard University Press, 1980.

Oldways website.


Filed under Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet Linked to Lower Childhood Asthma

Researchers note lower risk of asthma symptoms in Greek 10- to 12-year-olds following a traditional Mediterranean diet, according to a recent Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

I reported in 2008 on a Portuguese study that found much improved control of adult asthma in those eating a Mediterranean diet.  Why, I even seem to recall a study that found a lower incidence of asthma in children of mothers who ate Mediterranean-style.

If you’re an overweight adult with asthma, why not look into the Sonoma Diet by Connie Guttersen, or my Advanced Mediterranean Diet?  People with diabetes or prediabetes may do better with the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.


Filed under Health Benefits, Mediterranean Diet

Pilot Study: Paleo Diet Is More Satiating Than Mediterranean-Style

Swedish researchers reported recently that a Paleolithic diet was more satiating than a Mediterranean-style diet, when compared on a calorie-for-calorie basis in heart patients.  Both groups of study subjects reported equal degrees of satiety, but the paleo dieters ended up eating 24% fewer calories over the 12-week study.

The main differences in the diets were that the paleo dieters had much lower consumption of cereals (grains) and dairy products, and more fruit and nuts.  The paleos derived 40% of total calories from carbohydrate compared to 52% among the Mediterraneans.

Even though it wasn’t a weight-loss study, both groups lost weight.  The paleo dieters lost a bit more than the Mediterraneans: 5 kg vs 3.8 kg (11 lb vs 8.4 lb).  That’s fantastic weight loss for people not even trying.  Average starting weight of these 29 ischemic heart patients was 93 kg (205 lb).  Each intervention group had only 13 or 14 patients (I’ll let you figure out what happened to to the other two patients).

I blogged about this study population before.  Participants supposedly had diabetes or prediabetes, although certainly very mild cases (average hemoglobin A1c of 4.7% and none were taking diabetic drugs)

As I slogged through the research report, I had to keep reminding myself that this is a very small, pilot study.  So I’ll not bore you with all the details.

Bottom Line

This study suggests that the paleo diet may be particularly helpful for weight loss in heart patients.  No one knows how results would compare a year or two after starting the diet.  The typical weight-loss pattern is to start gaining the weight back at six months, with return to baseline at one or two years out.

Greek investigators found a link between the Mediterranean diet and better clinical outcomes in known ischemic heart disease patients.  On the other hand, researchers at the Heart Institute of Spokane found the Mediterranean diet equivalent to a low-fat diet in heart patients, again in terms of clinical outcomes.  U.S. investigators in 2007 found a positive link between the Mediterranean diet and lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer

We don’t yet have these kinds of studies looking at the potential benefits of the paleo diet.  I’m talking about hard clinical endpoints such as heart attacks, heart failure, cardiac deaths, and overall deaths.  The paleo diet definitely shows some promise.

I also note the Swedish investigators didn’t point out that weight loss in overweight heart patients may be detrimental.  This is the “obesity paradox,” called “reverse epidemiology” at Wikipedia.  That’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

Keep your eye on the paleo diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Jonsson, Tommy, et al.  A paleolithic diet is more satiating per calorie than a mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart diseaseNutrition and Metabolism, 2010, 7:85.


Filed under coronary heart disease, Mediterranean Diet

Unleashing “Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet”

My idea behind this blog has been to create an adaptation of the healthy Mediterranean diet for people with type 2 diabetes.  The Mediterranean diet alone has too many carbohydrates for the average diabetic. 

The initial adaptation has been done and available free here for many months.  The whole shebang is now available in book and ebook form, entitled Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet

You’ll find the printed version at Amazon.com and CreateSpace.  The ebook is available in multiple formats at Smashwords, and the Kindle version is at the Kindle Store.

Compared with jumping from page to page at this website and using your own printer, the book’s a pretty good deal.  It runs $16.95 (USD) at Amazon, and the ebook is $9.99.

What’s In the Book?

 Here’s the news release:

Dr. Steve Parker has created the first-ever low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet, designed for people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.  His science-based plan blends the healthy components of the traditional Mediterranean diet with the ease and effectiveness of low-carb eating.  Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet teaches how to lower blood sugars naturally, reduce or eliminate diabetic medications, and lose excess weight if needed.

Type 2 diabetics and prediabetics have lost the ability to process carbohydrates safely.  Carbohydrates have become poisonous for them.  Carb toxicity too often leads to numb and painful limbs, impaired vision, kidney failure, amputations, cancer, and premature heart attacks, strokes, and death.

Nutrition experts worldwide agree that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest way of eating for the general public.  It prolongs life and reduces rates of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and dementia.  The only problem for diabetics is that it provides too many toxic carbohydrates.

Dr. Parker initially recommends a very-low-carb ketogenic diet for 12 to 18 weeks, then teaches the reader how to gradually add more healthy carbohydrates depending on blood sugar and body weight changes.  Due to the toxic nature of carbohydrates in people with impaired blood sugar metabolism, most diabetics won’t be able to tolerate more than 80-100 grams of carbohydrate daily.  (The average Western diet provides 250 grams.)  

The book provides recipes, a week of menus, instruction on exercise, discussion of all available diabetic medications, advice on prevention of weight regain, lists of delicious doctor-approved foods, 71 scientific references, an annotated bibliography, and an index. All measurements are given both in U.S. customary and metric units.

Steve Parker, M.D., is a leading medical expert on the Mediterranean diet and author of the award-winning Advanced Mediterranean Diet: Lose Weight, Feel Better, Live Longer.   He has over two decades’ experience practicing Internal Medicine and treating patients with diabetes and prediabetes.


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