Diabetes, as we've discussed, is a problem with your body's handling of carbohydrate. So it makes sense to me that, decreasing the carbohydrate burden on your body can only help.
The thing is, it's very difficult to offer specific medical advice via the internet to strangers, especially those with disease (such as diabetes). So I won't even try. But what I will offer is a common sense look at why eating a low-carb diet can prevent diabetes.
Most of us heard our grandmothers warn us to "quit eating all that candy before you get that sugah diabetes." Perhaps...there's something to it.
It all begins (and ends) with insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that is made in the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas and is released in response to rising sugar (or protein) levels in the blood. The insulin causes the liver, muscle, and fat cells to take up sugar (glucose) from the blood thereby lowering the blood sugar levels. The liver, muscle and fat cells then store the glucose (either as glycogen or fat).
Glucagon is also a hormone, but it does exactly the opposite action of insulin. Glucagon is made and secreted from alpha cells of the islets of Langerhans. It is a hormone that raises the blood sugar levels by causing the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose which causes the blood sugar levels to rise. Glucagon is also released when protein in ingested (this essentially off-sets the insulin that’s released when protein is ingested). Insulin is a “pack away and store it” hormone.
As long as insulin is present, the body cannot use stored fat or glycogen for energy. Insulin inhibits the release of glucagon. So when insulin is not present, glucose cannot be taken up by the cells, and fat is mobilized and used as energy (as ketone bodies, or to help make glucose out of protein and fat in a process called gluconeogenesis).
But what if there’s too much insulin around?
When we eat carbohydrates, our pancreases excretes insulin (without the simultaneous release of glucagon that happens with protein ingestion) and our blood levels of insulin become elevated. As our muscle, liver, and fat cells become bombarded with high insulin levels all the time, the receptors on the cells surface down-regulate (become ‘numb’ or tolerant to insulin’s effects). So, in order to get these cells to respond to insulin, MORE insulin (higher doses of insulin) are necessary. This makes the level of insulin in our body even higher, causing MORE down-regulation of the receptors (or RESISTANCE)…and the cycle repeats….until your blood sugar cannot be brought down no matter how much insulin your pancreas cranks out.
Sometimes the pancreas burns itself out trying to keep up. And then, you have a condition of ‘double-diabetes’ where you are both insulin resistant (type 2) but your pancreas cannot produce adequate insulin (type 1). But chronically elevated insulin levels does lots of damage. As insulin resistance occurs, the blood sugar rises. Elevated blood sugar is diabetes. And diabetes has many long term effects.
Excessive carbohydrates in our diet can lead to bloating, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. Fatigue, decrease in brain function, sleepiness. Weight gain! Insulin is the FAT STORAGE hormone. If you have too much insulin circulating around in your blood stream, losing weight is impossible. This fat storage especially occurs in and around the abdominal organs leading to the dreaded ‘central obesity.’
Cholesterol synthesis system is activated by insulin. Our own cells make about 80% of our total body cholesterol (and only 20% comes from the diet). And the thing is, the more cholesterol comes from the diet, the less needs to be made. Elevated insulin causes these cells to produce more cholesterol.
Excess insulin also causes proliferation of smooth muscle cells in the linings of our blood vessels and control arterial wall stiffness/tension. They causes them to thicken and become less elastic. This causes them to form plaques and spasm. Plaques and spasms is the cause of strokes and heart attaches. Thick inelastic blood vessels cause hypertension. Also, insulin causes fluid retention, and that leads to increased blood pressure as well.
Increase insulin levels lead to increased triglyceride and cholesterol levels. It can make us sleepy, hungry, dizzy. It raises our blood pressure, and causes our body's to cram fat into fat cells, damage arteries, causes fluid retention, and raises our blood pressure.
All of these medical issues are SYMPTOMS of insulin resistance.
Depression is more common due to deranged metabolism which affects our psyche and causes chemical changes in our brains, making us more prone to depression. And finally, insulin causes increased hunger. Ever wonder why that granola bar just doesn’t leave you feeling satisfied long?
Your body needs glucose to stay alive because some tissues can ONLY use glucose as energy (such as the brain, red blood cells, and some of the cells in our kidney). They cannot use fat, or ketones, as energy. So our bodies have the capacity to make glucose from other substances such as protein (and to a lesser degree, fat) to provide these glucose dependent cells with the energy they need to stay alive and function. Ideally this is protein comes from your diet, and not your own muscle mass.
How much sugar does these glucose dependent cells/tissues need?
Not much, it turns out. About 200 grams. As the liver converts protein to glucose (called gluconeogenesis) it produces ketone bodies as a byproduct. Ketones are water soluble fats that provide a great source of energy to many body tissues (such as the heart which prefers ketones as an energy source, muscles, and even provides some of the energy the brain requires). Ketones reduces the body’s need for sugar to about 130 grams per day. If you’re following a low-carb diet, the protein you eat is converted to glucose. If you keep your carbs low enough, the liver will still have to make some glucose via gluconeogenesis. AND if your insulin levels remain low (because you’re not eating many carbs), your body is able to burn fat effectively for energy.
As your fat melts away, you lose weight. As insulin levels stay low, you do not suffer the many above mentioned adverse effects of hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels). So if you keep your carbs below 60 grams/day, your liver will have to make about 70 grams of glucose for the glucose dependent tissues to use. So you will generate ketones, and utilize this fat as energy…leading to weight loss, and lower insulin levels.
It is insulin that causes obesity and subsequent adverse health effects…not the other way around. And the only treatment is through our diet. We need to lower our insulin blood levels to prevent the adverse consequences of hyperinsulemia.
And if we do this BEFORE we develop diabetes, I think it will prevent it's development.
How do we do this?
Follow a low carb diet. Look at the nutritional panel of everything you eat, and count the number of carbohydrates it contains. For other items that don't come with a label, look online for their typical carbohydrate content (such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc). Keep you carb count as low as possible, especially at first. Below 20grams/day of carbs is good.
Then, as you arrive at your desired weight and health status, you can increase your daily carb count to about 60grams. There will be times when you have a celebration (and have a slice of cake, or whatever) and as long as you're not a diabetic, this is okay. But for maximal efficacy, try to stick to the low-carb diet. You will see results in a couple of weeks!! You will lose some weight, your blood pressure will go down, and your blood sugars will improve. You will feel much better (after an initial period of discomfort as your body adjusts to using ketones for energy), and you will be healthier.
THIS is how you prevent diabetes!!