Type 2 Diabetes is one of the most misunderstood diseases in medicine. It is typically thought of as a disease of high blood sugar. (High sugar is the symptom, not the disease). To further confuse the issue, doctors will tell you it’s hereditary. If that were so, how does one explain the 600% increase in Type 2 Diabetes worldwide in the latter half of the last century (much of it within the same generation)? More and more children are developing what was once an adult disease. Clearly, something more than just genetic predisposition is at work here.

Limitations of Conventional Treatment

Conventional treatment focuses on lowering blood sugar levels with the use of oral medication and/or insulin. Even while sugar levels are controlled in this manner, the disease marches on, leading to conditions such as neuropathy, retinopathy, and nephropathy. If controlling sugar levels was all that was needed, why do diabetics develop these problems?

Trading One Evil for Another

Conventional treatment lowers blood sugar levels while raising insulin levels. This approach solves one problem while creating a host of other problems. Current research clearly shows that high insulin levels play a major role in

  • Heart disease
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease
  • Stroke
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Obesity

Diabetics are at risk for all of the above. Clearly, something more than just blood sugar control is needed to tame this monster. In order to do so, we must first understand the disease and its mechanism.

Understanding the Root Causes of Type 2 Diabetes instead of the Symptoms

One of the primary root causes of Type 2 Diabetes is a decrease in energy production at the cellular level. Two conditions cause this decrease in energy production:

  1. The inability of the body to efficiently metabolize oxygen to produce energy.

There are 2 ways your body can make energy. By metabolizing the oxygen you breathe in the process called aerobic metabolism and through anaerobic metabolism i.e. without oxygen. The former lasts a lot longer and is preferable while the latter is reserved for emergencies. Inefficient aerobic metabolism results in an energy deficit leading to degenerative diseases such as diabetes.

  1. Shifting away from burning FAT to burning GLUCOSE for energy

Oxygen can be used to burn fat or glucose for energy. Contrary to popular belief, it is fat and not glucose that the body prefers to burn to produce energy. A typical young person will obtain almost 100% of their resting energy production from burning fat, while an older (or sicker) person will burn glucose for their energy production. As people age or develop the disease, they shift from burning fat to burning glucose.

How Decreased Aerobic Metabolism Results in Type 2 Diabetes

Cells store energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) which provides the energy for cell membranes to communicate with insulin, without which glucose cannot enter the cell. As energy production decreases, and the cell has less ATP, it cannot interact effectively with insulin. This is ONE OF THE PRIME CAUSES of insulin resistance resulting in Type 2 Diabetes.   

A deficit in ATP contributes in several other ways to developing Type 2 Diabetes. Eg: ATP protects islet cells in the pancreas from free radical damage.

How the Shift from Fat to Glucose Metabolism Results in Type 2 Diabetes

The shift from fat to glucose metabolism causes the cells to burn more glucose and since very little glucose can be stored, it results in continuous depletion of glucose stores. This makes one crave for carbohydrates. The more carbohydrates you eat, the more insulin your body will make. The cells respond to this increase in insulin production by decreasing the number of insulin receptors (called receptor down-regulation). This again leads to insulin resistance. The body adapts to the dietary shift of increased carbohydrate intake by burning more glucose instead of fat. And because most of these carbohydrate calories are not going to be used up immediately, they will be stored as fat. Burning less and storing more fat increases your body fat percentage- another cause of insulin resistance.

As insulin levels rise, the adrenal glands pump out more cortisol (a stress hormone) to balance the effects of insulin. Elevated cortisol suppresses the activity of insulin receptors on cells and insulin resistance becomes even more pronounced.

The Good news- Type 2 Diabetes is Reversible 

Type 2 Diabetes can be dealt with effectively without having to suffer its debilitating effects. The best approach would be to consult a healthcare practitioner and implement some or all of the concepts outlined here. Your doctor should start by evaluating your energy production by measuring the oxygen and carbon dioxide content you inhale and exhale while at rest, and while you exercise. Hormone levels need to be assessed as well. The treatment should focus on improving energy production through various natural means available and also help the body return to burning fat as the primary energy source. Your doctor will devise a customized program for you. However, diabetics can start by implementing the following simple tips on their own. These tips will also help those who wish to take preventive action.( Note: the following tips are just to get you started while you try and find a doctor who can help you to treat the root cause of the disease rather than suppress the symptoms as described above).

Simple Steps to Success

  1. In addition to the normal blood tests, ask your doctor to check your steroid hormones, sex hormones, thyroid function, HbA1c and fasting insulin levels. (C-Peptide levels should be checked if you are on insulin).
  2. Eat good quality proteins (eg: pulses and fish). Consume good fats (such as cold-pressed olive oil, raw almonds, and walnuts). Eat complex carbohydrates such (as cabbage, broccoli). Avoid refined carbohydrates (such as white flour, white rice, white sugar).
  3.  Reduce your calorie intake by about 15%.
  4. Exercise in a way that progressively challenges your cardiovascular system. For beginners, stair climbing is a good example. (Please talk to your doctor first and use caution and common sense before starting any exercise program).
  5. Detox your liver
  6. Get adequate sleep.
  7. Reduce stress. (Stress contributes to insulin resistance).
  8. Talk to your doctor about correcting hormonal imbalances with natural supplements.

Diabetes is  a metabolic disease. It is important to understand the root causes of type 2 diabetes before taking any corrective action.

Dr Suresh Shottam

The author Dr. Suresh Shottam, is a practicing naturopath, researcher, author and lecturer who was based in New York for 30 years and currently practices in India. He coaches senior executives in Peak Performance and Ultra-Wellness. His "Uncommon Sense Wellness" workshop has been well-received by professionals and the general public both at home and abroad.