Diabetic Complications: Saving Limbs and Lives
Julian Whitaker, MD
“I’m sorry. We’ve done everything we can. Your only option is to have an amputation.”
Every year, more than 133,000 people in the United States are hit with this devastating diagnosis. For some, a limb is lost to cancer; for others, it results from an accident or other trauma. But the majority of amputations are caused by diabetes. Over 86,000 Americans lose a toe, foot, or leg to the vascular and nerve complications of this disease. And, thanks to our epidemic of diabetes, the number of such amputations has doubled over the past 20 years, and continues to rise at an alarming rate.
Folks, this is a travesty. Most of these patients could have walked away from amputation—on their own two feet—if they’d been treated with safe, natural therapies that conventional physicians inexplicably ignore.
If You Have Diabetes, Listen Up
If diabetes were simply a matter of controlling blood sugar, that would be one thing. But this condition is accompanied by a number of other metabolic risk factors, such as elevated insulin and blood lipids, excessive inflammation, and increased free radical activity, which set the stage for major complications.
The most serious problems involve the blood vessels. Diabetes damages the large arteries that supply blood to the heart and extremities (peripheral artery disease). It also chips away at the small vessels and tiny capillaries that deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues throughout the body. Particularly hard hit are the vessels that nourish the eyes (retinopathy), the kidneys (nephropathy), and, most important for our current discussion, the nerves (neuropathy).
Compromised nerve function further hinders blood flow, creating a vicious cycle of more nerve damage. Before you know it, you have full-blown diabetic neuropathy. Diminished sensation then leads to new injuries and underestimation of wound severity. At the same time, impaired circulation makes you more susceptible to infection and retards wound healing. For most of us, small blisters or scrapes on the feet are minor problems that go away within days, but for diabetics, they can spell disaster.
Body Parts Fall Off
In the endgame, body parts simply fall off. Diabetics have a 40-fold increased risk of limb loss, but even when things don’t progress to the point of amputation, they can be disabling. Walking and balance are difficult when you can’t feel your feet, and you’re more prone to falls and accidents. Neuropathy may also manifest as tingling, burning, or electric-like pain or tenderness to touch. And diabetic ulcers of any degree are sore, unsightly, and notoriously hard to treat with conventional therapies.
The good news is, targeted alternative treatments can produce results bordering on the miraculous.
A Sweet Solution Saved J.J.’s Leg
One of the first patients I treated for this condition was J.J., a schoolteacher I saw more than 20 years ago. J.J. was lying in a hospital bed awaiting a below-the-knee amputation, thanks to a gangrenous ulcer that didn’t respond to intravenous antibiotics. Five hours before his surgery, someone told J.J. about my clinic. He checked out of the hospital against medical advice and came to Whitaker Wellness.
Like all our patients with diabetes, I started J.J. on a therapeutic diet and nutritional supplement program (he was obviously unable to exercise). We treated his infected ulcer—which was so far gone the skin was almost black—with sugar dressings. Incredible as it may seem, white sugar often outperforms powerful antibiotics. Unlike drugs, which are rapidly losing ground against MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant microbes, sugar creates an environment in which no bacteria can survive. J.J. was also treated with EDTA chelation, an intravenous therapy that removes toxic heavy metals from the blood, improves circulation, and restores arterial health.
Over the next few weeks, J.J.’s foot began to regain its normal color, and eventually the wound completely healed. Today, his diabetes is under control, he’s nearly 150 pounds lighter, and he walks several miles a day on his own God-given legs.
Lighting the Way to Mobility
William’s diabetic neuropathy caused unrelenting pain and near-complete numbness of his feet that made it impossible for him to walk without a cane. The only thing his doctor offered was painkillers, but William couldn’t handle their side effects, so he stopped taking them. That’s when he decided to come to the clinic, where he underwent a course of infrared light therapy and hyperbaric oxygen.
Like sugar dressings, infrared light therapy may seem a little strange at first glance. How in the world does light promote healing? Infrared light stimulates the production of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that dilates the arteries and improves blood flow by as much as 400 percent. Several studies support infrared light’s benefits for diabetic neuropathy. In addition to restoring sensation and reducing risk of amputation, it has also been shown to improve balance and reduce falls by 96 percent.
For William, infrared light, along with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), did the trick. After two weeks of treatment, he could walk and even climb stairs without his cane, and by the time he returned home to Seattle, he was pain-free.
All About Oxygen
R.B. had just about every diabetic complication you can imagine: retinopathy, two heart attacks, a stubborn ulcer on her foot, and severe neuropathy. She had absolutely no sensation in her feet, was unable to walk without assistance, and had extreme pain to the lightest of touch. She came to the clinic with her daughter and was treated with HBOT and enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP).
Both of these therapies are all about oxygen. HBOT, which involves breathing concentrated oxygen in a pressurized chamber, saturates the tissues with oxygen and “wakes up” damaged nerves. Because many bacteria cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment, HBOT also facilitates the healing of diabetic ulcers. EECP increases oxygen delivery as well, but by a different mechanism. It rhythmically squeezes the lower extremities, which dramatically improves blood flow throughout the body. In addition, EECP stimulates the production of new blood vessels, so benefits are enduring.
HBOT and EECP were R.B.’s ticket to independence. Within days, sensation returned to her feet, and her diabetic ulcer started to heal. After two weeks of treatment she did something that used to be unthinkable: She and her daughter spent the weekend shopping and sightseeing.
Bill had very little sensation in his hands or below his knees. He was constantly dropping things, and his left leg dragged. His doctor told him there was no hope of improvement and predicted that he’d be in a wheelchair within a year. Rather than accepting this dire prognosis, Bill acted on advice he’d read in Health & Healing and started taking alpha lipoic acid (ALA).
ALA is an extraordinary antioxidant that, in addition to quenching free radicals, has been shown in clinical studies to improve pain, burning, numbness, and other symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. Bill reported that after taking ALA for about two months, his coordination improved, the pain in his hands and feet resolved, and his gait normalized. Bill’s doctor said he’d never seen such a turnaround.
Bill eventually came to the clinic and received other treatments, but his story is a testament to the therapeutic power of targeted nutritional supplements. Other essential supplements for preventing and treating the complications of diabetes include high doses of antioxidants to fight free radical damage, B-complex vitamins to support the nerves, fish oil to dampen inflammation, and acetyl-L-carnitine to help regenerate nerves.
Take Control of Diabetes
I realize that your conventional physicians may be reluctant to prescribe the therapies discussed in this article. Heck, they’ve probably never even heard of some of them. I also understand that it may be difficult to find a facility where these treatments are offered. But as you can see, it is essential—and possible—to take control of your diabetes before it takes control of you.
- To dress open wounds with sugar, coat a strip of gauze with Vaseline and place it around the sore. Pour ¼-inch of sugar over the wound, cover with sterile gauze, and secure with a cling bandage. Every two days, remove bandage, clean, and repeat.
- To receive any of the therapies mentioned above at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call a Patient Services Representative at (866) 944-8253.
- Alpha lipoic acid can be found in health food stores or ordered by calling (800) 810-6655. To read more about ALA, click here.
- National Limb Loss Information Center Fact Sheet. 2008. National Limb Loss Web site. www.amputee-coalition.org/fact_sheets/amp_stats_cause.html. Accessed June 2, 2008.
- Ziegler D, et al. Oral treatment with alpha-lipoic acid improves symptomatic diabetic polyneuropathy: the SYDNEY 2 trial. Diabetes Care. 2006 Nov;29(11):2365–2370.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2008. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.