Only You Can Prevent Diabetic Complications
Julian Whitaker, MD
As our epidemic of diabetes gathers steam—more than one in 10 adults in this country and nearly one in four over age 60 are now affected—its related complications are on the upswing. Hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer with vision loss, kidney failure, neuropathy, and lower-limb amputations brought on by diabetes-induced nerve and blood vessel damage. Millions more have hypertension, high cholesterol, and other blood lipid abnormalities, and thanks to diabetes’ two- to four-fold increased risk of heart attack and stroke, 68 percent of them will die prematurely of cardiovascular disease.
Drugs Aren’t the Answer
Conventional medicine is at a loss as to how to stem this rising tide. Maintaining tighter control of blood sugars with intensive drug regimens doesn’t work. In 2008, the large, government-sponsored Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) study, which was expected to confirm that this approach would reduce heart attacks, strokes, and deaths, was terminated early after it was found aggressive drug use caused more cardiovascular deaths.
Pumping patients full of drugs to drive down blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides isn’t effective either, according to studies released by the New England Journal of Medicine in March. Researchers reported that two other arms of the ACCORD study, which were anticipated to show that aggressive lowering of blood pressure and lipids with multiple drugs would prevent cardiovascular events, were also a bust. Not only did stepped-up drug use prove ineffective in protecting against heart attack, stroke, and death, but it was linked with more adverse effects, including a dramatic increase in kidney failure in the hypertension study.
“Disappointing,” “disturbing,” and “dashed hopes” were among the reactions of many physicians—and, no doubt, pharmaceutical companies. My reaction? Predictable! Any time you load up patients with synthetic agents that block normal physiological function, you’re begging for trouble.
This doesn’t mean that diabetes condemns you to a life of pain, suffering, and early death. But the dismal results of these clinical trials should help you see once and for all the folly of depending on medications to prevent diabetic complications. The only thing that can save your eyes, legs, kidneys, heart—and your life—is you. Yes, that’s right, you!
Get Motivated by Study Failures
There is no drug in the world that can make you choose salmon, salad, and vegetables over a hamburger, French fries, and a Coke. But study after study shows that adopting a high-fiber, nutrient-dense, low-glycemic, low-fat diet and avoiding processed foods, starches, and sugars improves blood sugar control, lowers cardiovascular risk factors, and prevents diabetic complications.
Your doctor isn’t going to lace up your walking shoes, pull you off the couch, and get you out the door. Yet regular exercise improves insulin sensitivity and reduces a wide range of diabetic and cardiovascular risk factors. Simply taking a 10- to 15-minute walk after meals—something most everyone can do—lowers postprandial (after-meal) blood sugar levels, which are particularly predictive of diabetic complications.
You, and only you, can decide once and for all to get control of your weight. Weight loss is the single most effective therapy for type 2 diabetes and all of its complications. High levels of fatty acids in the blood, liver, muscles, and other tissues are closely linked with insulin resistance, destruction of insulin-producing beta cells, and organ damage. Studies show that diabetes is completely reversed in three-fourths of obese patients who lose significant amounts of weight.
This is one reason I’m so enthusiastic about the fasting and mini-fast with exercise programs we’ve started at Whitaker Wellness. They’re the quickest, surest tracks to weight management. I personally lost 21 pounds on a five-day fast and have kept it off with mini-fasting (morning exercise, no food before noon).
Antioxidants Protect Against Complications
Something else you’re going to have to do on your own is follow a nutritional supplement program. It’s highly unlikely your physician will suggest such a thing, let alone stress its importance. But if you have diabetes it is imperative that you take a potent daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.
The increase in urination that is characteristic of diabetes causes nutritional deficiencies. Subpar levels of vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, B-complex vitamins, zinc, and other essential nutrients are very common in this group. Did you know, for example, that metformin, the most popular diabetes drug, impairs vitamin B12 absorption and leads to deficiencies in 30 percent of patients who take it—and that a B12 deficiency can cause nerve damage? Or that patients with diabetes who have the lowest levels of magnesium are at greatest risk of retinopathy and vision loss?
Antioxidants are particularly important because diabetes unleashes a storm of oxidative stress, or free-radical damage, which plays a key role in the vascular and nerve damage that underlie diabetic complications. That’s why I recommend you take extra antioxidants (in addition to those in your multi). There are many excellent “designer” antioxidants, including coenzyme Q10, acetyl-L-carnitine, and N-acetyl-cysteine. But if I had to choose just one for people with diabetes, it would be alpha lipoic acid (ALA).
ALA has the unique ability to work in both water- and fat-soluble mediums and to regenerate vitamins C and E, and other antioxidants. Furthermore, it actually improves the diabetic condition by enhancing glucose uptake, increasing insulin sensitivity, and protecting against beta cell destruction. Most important are ALA’s effects on diabetic complications. Studies show that daily doses of 600 mg or higher of ALA reduce pain, burning, numbness, tingling, and other symptoms of neuropathy. Benefits also have been demonstrated for diabetes-related eye, kidney, and cardiovascular disease.
Another underlying pathological process is glycation, which occurs when sugars bind to proteins. This leads to the production of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). These harmful compounds crosslink with collagen and accumulate in tissues, where they trigger inflammation and ramp up oxidative stress. Not surprisingly, elevated blood sugar predisposes diabetics to AGE formation.
To retard this process, cut back on your intake of fructose and take targeted supplements. Benfotiamine is a fat-soluble, highly absorbable form of thiamine (vitamin B1) that increases the activity of transketolase, an enzyme that interferes with the production of AGEs. Like ALA, it is best studied in the context of diabetic neuropathy and has been shown to reduce pain and improve nerve conduction velocity. Benfotiamine has potential in the prevention and treatment of other diabetic complications as well, and early research suggests it may reduce beta-amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) also blocks AGE formation and helps prevent diabetes-related damage to the nerves, blood vessels, kidneys, and eyes. Unfortunately, last year the FDA banned the sale of pyridoxamine, one of the safest and most effective forms of natural B6, at the behest of a drug company that is trying to get it approved as a drug. A second form, pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (P5P), is available for now, but another drug company is trying to get it yanked off the market for similar reasons. Your best bet is to make sure your multi contains a decent dose of this important vitamin.
Damage Can Be Reversed
If you already have diabetic neuropathy, slow-healing skin ulcerations, vision loss, kidney problems, or cardiovascular disease, there’s still hope. But, once again, you’re going to have to take the initiative.
We’ve treated thousands of patients at Whitaker Wellness over the years who’ve come to the clinic as a last resort after being told by their conventional doctors that nothing else could be done. We put them on a lifestyle program and supplement regimen for lowering blood sugar, which is extremely important in addressing complications. And we treat them with safe, effective, noninvasive therapies that all physicians should be using.
Bill, whose painful neuropathy prevented him from getting around without a cane, was treated with hyperbaric oxygen, which delivers healing oxygen to tissues with poor blood flow, and infrared light, a therapy that dramatically increases circulation and reduces pain. By the time he left the clinic, he was pain-free and climbing stairs. His cane was history.
When Vic came to see us in 1996, he was so depressed by his ophthalmologist’s prediction that his retinopathy was rapidly progressing toward blindness that he was, in his words, “suicidal.” We treated him with intravenous nutrients, and when I spoke to him last year, his vision was fine.
Jerome checked himself out of the hospital hours before his severely infected left leg was to be amputated. He came to the clinic, where we treated him with EDTA chelation therapy, which removes toxic metals and restores blood flow, and dressed his diabetic ulcer with sugar. Twenty years later, he’s walking around on his own two feet.
A Perfect Storm Is Brewing
As I said earlier, one in four Americans over age 60 has diabetes. Given that 10,000 people in this country turn 60 every day—3.65 million a year—we’re looking at a virtual tsunami of diabetes in our future. Diabetes is costly in terms of both human suffering and medical expenses, which are roughly two-and-a-half times higher for people with this condition. Today, one of every five health care dollars is spent on patients with diabetes. What’s going to happen as more and more Baby Boomers “come of age”?
Ready or not, this tsunami is arriving, and it’s going to have a dramatic impact not only on a public health level but on millions of individual lives. Don’t get swept up in it. I’ve thrown you a life preserver. I challenge you to grab it and take control of your health today.
- Weight control and lifestyle changes are the best therapies for controlling blood sugar and sidestepping complications.
- Take a high-potency daily multinutrient supplement. Look for a product with doses similar to what we use in the clinic (Forward Plus Daily Regimen, sold online or at (800) 810-6655): vitamin C 1,000 mg, vitamin E 300–400 IU, selenium 200 mcg, magnesium 500 mg, zinc 30 mg, chromium 200 mcg, folic acid 800 mcg, vitamin B12 150 mcg, and vitamin B6 75 mg. You’ll likely need extra vitamin D, in addition to what’s in your multi.
- The dose of ALA used in most of the studies was 600 mg per day, although some used as much as 1,800 mg. I suggest starting with 600 mg and building up after two or three months, if symptoms persist. The usual dose of benfotiamine is 300 mg twice a day. Both ALA and benfotiamine are available in health food stores or you can order them by calling (800) 810-6655.
- To learn more about the therapies available at the Whitaker Wellness Institute for the treatment and prevention of diabetes and its complications, call (866) 944-8253.
- ACCORD Study Group. Effects of combination lipid therapy in type 2 diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 2010 Mar 18. [Epub ahead of print].
- ACCORD Study Group. Effects of intensive blood-pressure control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 2010 Mar 14. [Epub ahead of print].
- ACCORD Study Group. Effects of intensive glucose lowering in type 2 diabetes. N Engl J Med. 2008 Jun 12;358(24):2545–2559.
- Balakumar P, et al. The multifaceted therapeutic potential of benfotiamine. Pharmacol Res. 2010 Feb 25. [Epub ahead of print]
- Singh U, et al. Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation and diabetes. Nutri Rev. 2008 Nov;66(11):646–657.
- Unger RH. Reinventing type 2 diabetes. JAMA. 2008;299(10): 1185–1187.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.