Sweet Tooth, Bitter Harvest

Diabetes mellitus or "sugar diabetes" is a condition where an abnormal response to insulin and/or inadequate insulin production causes high blood sugar levels. This is usually defined by a fasting blood sugar of greater than 125 on two occasions, or a positive glucose tolerance test (the individual drinks a specified amount of glucose, usually 75 grams and their blood sugars are evaluated over a two hour period). Over time, these high blood sugar levels and the other metabolic changes that go along with diabetes are extremely taxing on the body. Consequently, diabetes dramatically increases one´s risk of death and disability.

Current statistics are sobering. In America there are now three times as many diabetics as there were in 1958. Estimates are that some 16 million Americans now have this condition, up from 11 million as recent as 1983. Depending on their type of diabetes and other characteristics, they run anywhere from 2 to 12 times the risk of death when compared to their non-diabetic peers. Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and other diseases related to atherosclerosis such as stroke or the loss of an arm or leg from blood vessel blockage. Diabetes also dramatically increases one´s chances of infections, kidney failure, and an eye disease called retinopathy, which can result in blindness.

Although heart disease is the leading cause of death among diabetics, sometimes the debilitating effects of blindness and kidney disease are more frightening. Within only seven years of diagnosis, as many as 50 percent of children with diabetes have developed diabetic retinopathy, a disease of the eyes that can result in blindness. Diabetics need to get checked by eye doctors regularly. Diabetic eye disease is preventable, not only through lifestyle, but also by early treatment. Furthermore, diabetics run a significant risk of developing kidney disease. In any given year, some 55,000 Americans are suffering with what is called "end-stage renal disease" due to their diabetes. These individuals have such poor kidney function that they are alive only by virtue of a transplant or regular dialysis treatments. End-stage renal disease among diabetics is increasing dramatically in the United States. Whereas 5,000 new cases were being diagnosed per year in the early 1980s, a decade later the figure had jumped to 18,000 new cases per year. In fact, over 35 percent of all patients with end-stage kidney disease are diabetic.15 Diabetic women are also more prone to develop breast and uterine cancer.

No dollar amount can eclipse the thousands of personal tragedies due to diabetic complications. Nevertheless, in a nation where health care costs are skyrocketing, the financial impact of diabetes is truly relevant. The direct and indirect cost to society for diabetes is estimated to be between 90 and 130 billion dollars per year in America alone.

Exercise plays a powerful role in lowering blood sugar levels. Evidence suggests that muscles in motion reduce resistance to insulin; that is, insulin sensitivity is improved by regular physical exercise. More simply put, exercise?in a sense?works like insulin in a diabetic: it helps sugar go out of the blood and into the muscle tissue. In fact, the prestigious Joslin´s Diabetes Medical textbook indicates that lack of exercise is "a key factor" in the development of insulin resistance as people get older. Since diabetics need insulin on a daily basis (either their own body´s insulin or injected insulin) so do diabetics need daily exercise to optimally control their blood sugars and their disease.

Until recently, diabetics were told that in order to control their blood sugars they had to eliminate most of the carbohydrates from their diet. They were told to avoid sugar, but the message did not stop there. Plant foods?naturally rich in complex carbohydrates?were also on the "hit list." The result left diabetics gravitating to a heavy meat diet. The medical community did not realize at that time what we have already noted; namely, a high protein diet promotes kidney destruction. With heavy meat consumption also came increased ingestion of cholesterol and saturated fat. Galloping atherosclerosis then followed close behind. "Missing the forest for the trees" was certainly true in this case. The trees were the high blood sugars, the forest was the whole patient. Yes, eating a low carbohydrate (high meat) diet can control the blood sugars, but the number one cause of death among diabetics is heart and blood vessel disease. In fact, the American Heart Association has gone on record that fully 80 percent of diabetics die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease. The root cause of heart and blood vessel disease is atherosclerosis. This process is, of course, accelerated by meat with its high content of cholesterol and saturated fat. Ironically, then, by treating his or her blood sugar with a high meat diet, a diabetic may likely trade the control of blood sugar for an early death from heart disease. Since it is the complications and afflictions of diabetes that need to be particularly avoided (not just the control of blood sugars) the diet needs to be tailored to avoid or treat these complications as well as control the blood sugar.

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- Proof Positive by Neil Nedley