If you or a loved one are a Type 1 Diabetic and you’d like a recipe to remain insulin dependent for the rest of your life, here it is: eat a wide variety of foods, try to have sugary foods and juices in moderation, count your carbs and take your insulin. This is the essence of what we were taught by medical doctors, nurses and registered dietitians regarding how to feed our diabetic son, Liam.
On the surface it seems like sound advice and, granted, this diet will keep you alive, but it is not a diet for healing or for optimizing wellness. If you are like a large and growing portion of our population and have issues such as obesity, systemic inflammation, an overactive immune system (called autoimmunity such as in type 1 diabetes), gut flora imbalance (also called gut dysbiosis), food sensitivities, or hormonal imbalances, these dietary guidelines will not afford much protection from future chronic disease and it will definitely not cure. In fact, during our hospital stay, the prospect of curing diabetes was never mentioned in any context whatsoever, except from the fundraising advertising material that we began to receive from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).
With regards to our current medical system and the organizations conducting research in attempts to discover cures for chronic disease and cancer, I must again tread cautiously and state that while I commend organizations such as JDRF for putting a large portion of their income towards programs, services and research which helps to save the lives of many children, there still exists a major problem. These programs and services have the inevitable effect of keeping people dependent upon the medical system rather than helping people achieve optimal levels of health. They also conduct their business in the context of searching for a pharmaceutical based or surgical based cure while, as many people are beginning to discover, a cure may already exist.
(I should like to condition that last statement by adding that the reversal of this conditioned that we, and others like us, have achieved may be, in large part, due to how quickly we initiated our protocol, thus preserving pancreatic function. I agree with the authors of a recent case study on another 9 year old, using a methodology similar to ours: “It is important to emphasise, however, that in those patients with long-standing T1DM beta cells might have exhausted and therefore there may be a need for insulin replacement. In these cases, however, the Paleolithic ketogenic diet may be used as an adjunct in an attempt to likely prevent diabetic complications”, see this article from the International Journal of Case Reports. My hopes for those suffering from chronic diabetes is that science does indeed soon make reality beta cell transplant or similar treatment.)
Sadly, the way our general nutritional recommendations are established is in this manner: medical and nutritional research committees make their best recommendations to a board of directors such as the FDA, USDA and US Board of Agriculture. From there, lawyers, political science majors and corporate representatives of the food and agriculture industries (the board members and lobbyists) decide how to reinterpret the scientific recommendations into policies that allow food growing and manufacturing industries the greatest amounts of profit without blatantly contradicting the science. Those policies are then disseminated to the public through our public schools, universities, hospitals, etc. (see article here from Johns Hopkins for an example of how the US dietary guidelines are developed).
Fortunately, due to working in the fitness and wellness field for the past 16 years, I had already been exposed to the power of the right diet for the right person as well as the power of the therapeutic use of nutritional supplementation. I have, for example, witnessed a diabetic client’s average blood sugar go from over 300 down to 120 simply by combining protein with carbohydrates at every meal. I have witnessed the elimination of seasonal allergies and eczema by the use of probiotics. I have seen people overcome ADHD as well as achieve major weight loss by eliminating gluten from their diet. I have witnessed recovery from chronic pain through the use of magnesium and fish oil.
Having witnessed changes like these and many, many more, it was my natural first instinct to begin to consider what we could accomplish with Liam through diet and supplementation as well.
As I mentioned in part 1, there are three main factors to consider when dealing with autoimmunity: genes, immune regulation and environment. The environment of your body’s cells is, in large part, determined by the foods you eat. Therefore, by thoroughly addressing diet, you are addressing one third of the equation. This should tell you right there how impactful diet is in treating diabetes and other autoimmune disorders and how disturbing it is that it is so marginalized within our current medical system.
In type 1 diabetes, since the problem is that the pancreas is not producing enough insulin to properly metabolize carbohydrates, I knew that if there was any chance for Liam’s pancreas to recover we had to reduce his carbohydrate intake, therefore reducing the amount of work being performed by the pancreas. I really wasn’t sure how far to take this and was getting conflicting information from the endocrinology staff and propaganda (“teaching material”) being sent to us by the pharmaceutical companies which encouraged us to continue to feed him plenty of carbs.
Also, when you are diagnosed with diabetes, they tell you that it is not uncommon to initially go through what they call the “honeymoon phase”. By this, they mean that a patient may initially begin producing insulin on their own again, BUT, when the pancreas starts to fail again “AND IT WILL!!!” (exact words of the nurse practitioner treating our son), don’t get your hopes up!
It stuns me that no one has ever reasoned that the explanation for why a diabetic goes through an initial period of recovery and then regresses once again is this: when you begin insulin therapy, the pancreas gets to rest, and therefore recover, but if from there you do not address the underlying factors that are causing the immune system to attack the pancreas in the first place, then, of course, the disease process will continue until the insulin producing cells of the pancreas are permanently destroyed.
Getting back to diet, at this point another two friends of mine were of tremendous help. In discussing the matter with my friend, Dr. Richard Beaubien, he confidently urged me to put Liam on a ketogenic diet. I was familiar with the concept but didn’t feel confident enough myself to jump right into it without further study. To that end, I am very grateful to my friend Anna, who found this extremely well researched series of articles here. Coincidentally, they were written just as were were going through this ordeal with Liam which I took as a favorable omen.
Seeing the power and potential that the ketogenic diet has in reversing certain disease processes and seeing how it has faded to the background in favor of pharmaceuticals which are, sadly, so overused in our society, were both indicators that I was on the right track.
This brings us to about one week in from his initial diagnosis, and, at this point, I knew that shifting his macronutrients in this manner was the way to go, but I still wasn’t sure exactly which foods would be best. For example, I was concerned whether we should be avoiding foods such as dairy which would make his food choices much more limited. I also wondered whether we should be avoiding gluten since diabetes and celiac disease are highly correlated but, since we were limiting carbs anyway, that made the choice to remove gluten an easy one.
As we were still strongly concerned about the impact that unknown food sensitivities could be having on our son (remember, immune regulation is another third of the autoimmune equation), we did take steps to get him tested. More on that in part 7 of this series.
From there, what we began do do with Liam was to gradually shift him away from carbs and began favoring fats and proteins. Using the concept of “free foods” that are provided to diabetic patients was admittedly helpful here. If they would just simply encourage diabetics to eat primarily free foods, that would be a major step forward in actually curing diabetes at its onset.
His diet was very simple. We encouraged lots of proteins and healthy fats and were able to stick with things that kids prefer so we did not have to make the dietary changes a struggle. Specifically, he ate organic yogurt, antibiotic and hormone free sausage, bacon and rotisserie chicken, omega-3 eggs, grass fed butter, organic cheese sticks, beef sticks, salami, cucumbers, peas, watermelon, organic strawberries and blueberries. For breakfast, we even let him have a serving of gluten free pancakes or waffles with 3 teaspoons of organic maple syrup as long as he also had a portion or two of protein along with it.
As we were closely monitoring his blood sugar 5-6 times per day, we saw that we were now having a problem of his blood sugar being too low. It was due to that fact that we decided to still continue with the relatively small amount of gluten free carbs, even allowing a serving of cookies or crackers as part of his snacks. I should note here for the reader that eating small frequent meals is another useful concept in stabilizing blood sugar, but I never allow carbohydrates without also having protein and/or fat along with it.
What we avoided were things such as the following: genetically modified foods such as soy and corn and anything derived from them (i.e. corn syrup, soy lecithin), wheat or other non-gluten free foods, inflammatory oils such as cottonseed, safflower, etc. (more on this in part 4), artificial sweeteners, and MSG.
Initially, we also avoided milk and used almond milk instead. Unfortunately, that was a mistake but, thankfully, we caught it quickly when we had him tested for IgG food sensitivities. Again, more on that in part 7.
Within two weeks we had lowered his night time insulin (Lantis) down to two units (and he was still waking up with his blood sugar on the low side) and his meal time insulin was down to 0.5-1 unit once per day!
Over the next 5 parts in this series I will cover the steps that we took which go beyond diet alone. These are the steps which address the immune regulation component of the three part model of autoimmunity (genes, environment, immune regulation). Specifically, in part 3 here I will begin with Vitamin D which, I believe, was almost as equally paramount as diet was in helping our son recover.
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