Diabetes comes in several flavours. Diabetes mellitus is the sweet one – the problem is in the pancreas, diabetes insipidus is a less famous alternative that has it’s origin in the pituitary gland.
At university I learnt a very neat summary that I could regurgitate at exam time, “Diabetes mellitus is characterised by polydipsia, polyurea, ketosis, coma and death”.
Polydipsia, polyuria are excessive drinking and excessive peeing. They are the features that make the disease a diabetes which is a name that comes from the Greek meaning passing through or a siphon. Mellitus is from the Latin, why be consistent, meaning sweet. And yes, back in the day the doctor had to taste the urine to make the diagnosis, or at least his apprentice did.
Type 1 diabetes (mellitus) usually has its origin in childhood. It’s due to an autoimmune attack on the cells that make insulin in the pancreas. Death can be averted by regular injections of insulin, a treatment that was first used in 1922.
What I didn’t learn about at university was the work of Frederick Allen. He pioneered the treatment of diabetes with a low carbohydrate diet. The link that describes Allen’s work has this to say …
Allen’s diet was far from a cure. It essentially brought people with severe diabetes to the brink of starvation in order to control the disease.
The brink of starvation, really? Fat and protein are essential nutrients and are as calorie rich as carbohydrate. The body can make as much glucose as it needs from these sources by the process of gluconeogenesis. Nor is insulin a cure it’s a lifetime’s treatment. A lifetime in which even well controlled diabetics face complications like blindness, heart disease and severe vascular problems. Carbohydrate is not an essential nutrient although it would be almost impossible to dream up a diet that was entirely carbohydrate free. Our Frederick may have been on to something that the addition of lower doses of insulin could have made even better.
Now please don’t take anything that I’m saying here as individual advice. A low carb diet will bring down blood glucose and blood pressure. If you’re on antidiabetic agents or antihypertensives this could put you in more than a spot of bother. If you’re on medication and considering a low carb diet a discussion with your doctor is essential.
For adults with pre-diabetes or as yet on oral antidiabetic agents a vigorous fight back appeals to me far more than a surrender.
In the last post I mentioned the Diabetes Australia web site. If you search the site you can find their statement on low carb diets. For type 1 diabetes the verdict is unproven, more studies needed. For type 2 they have this to say …
In summary, this research indicates that lower carb diets are more effective at reducing blood glucose levels in the short term (three to six months) than higher carb diets and appear to be at least as effective as higher carb diets for long term blood glucose management (12-24 months) and weight loss.
So why are they steering people away from it?