In 1900 diabetes was rare. A doctor could spend an entire career and not come across diabetes.
A century later in the US there are 24 million people with diabetes and another 56 million or so who are pre-diabetic. Americans spend an estimated $116 billion annually treating diabetes. Although it’s not currently believed that diabetes is infectious, the startling rise in the number of people with it has risen to the levels normally associated with pandemics. Houston, we have a problem.
There are two basic types of diabetes. Type 1, called juvenile diabetes, commonly shows up in young people and happens suddenly. One day you seem to be fine, the next day you’re thirsty and peeing all the time and you go to the doctor and find out you have Type 1 diabetes. And you have it for life.
Type 1 is labeled as an auto-immune disease. Your body suddenly decides pancreas cells that manufacture insulin are bad and attacks them. Human beings can’t survive without insulin. Diet and insulin regimes are used to control the problem, but to date there’s no real “cure.”
Type 2 usually appears later in life, is associated strongly with being overweight but unlike Type 1, Type 2, if identified early, can be slowed or even reversed by lifestyle and diet changes.
While there are important distinctions between Type 1 and Type 2, there are themes common to both.
Take the environment. Not just the flora and fauna around us, but our personal environments.
Compare the lifestyle we lived for the hundred thousand years, or so, before we started farming. For most of our existence, we’ve been hunter gatherers. Back then we exercised regularly, what with having to run around to hunt and gather. That means we were outside more than we are today. It means babies were fed their mother’s milk. And it means we ate food unpolluted by man made artificial fertilizers, pesticides, anti-biotics and growth hormones.
So let’s visit this list of differences and see if they might be, as the police are fond of saying, “persons of interest” in a crime.
Take the exercise and outdoor exposure we got as hunter gatherers and compare it with our existence today. Many of us spend the vast majority of our day indoors under artificial light. Low Vitamin D levels are strongly associated with diabetes. Exposure to natural sunlight is what creates Vitamin D in humans. Someone who lives in Maine is more likely to have diabetes than someone living in Florida. Globally, diabetes is found at much higher levels in northern, temperate climes compared to those found in equatorial regions.
People who regularly exercise burn off more calories and tend to have more muscle than those who don’t. Type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with being overweight and physical inactivity. Measure your waist size at your belly button level. If it is equal to half or more of your height (in other words you’ve got a “pooch”) your chances of developing Type 2 increases dramatically.
Consider our diets today versus the diet we had when we spent time outdoors hunting and gathering. Back then there were no processed foods and very little sugar and salt added. No Dunkin Donuts or Cheetos or processed foods of any kind back then. Processed foods invariably are packed with sugar and sugar creates huge spikes in insulin levels. They are also packed with fats, many of these fats long identified as being unhealthy. What they don’t have is fiber and fiber is known to be necessary for good health.
Back then there were no man made fertilizers in the food we ate. No man made growth hormones. No man made pesticides to ingest. For more than a hundred thousand years of our evolution as humans, we didn’t eat any of these things. And genetically, we’re still the same humans today as we were then.
So who do we take a good hard look at, other than ourselves, for consuming all this stuff our bodies never had to deal with until very, very recently? Who are the enablers? The “people of interest?”
That would be government, by its policies, and the food industry. Our government, as just one example, spends anywhere from $4-$7 billion per year subsidizing corn. As a result of that we have corn coming out the whazoo. Problem is, corn is starchy and high in sugar. There are many, many other vegetables far more healthy for us than corn.
But corn it is, our government has decided. With the subsidy it’s cheap and in America as elsewhere price is everything. So our cattle are fed corn instead of what cattle are supposed to eat, which is grass. That makes them fat and unhealthy. But cheap. So we Americans consume cheap beef that’s unhealthy for us because corn is cheap because the government has decided it should be thus. And it’s not just the fat. We end up feeding the cattle growth hormones so we can slaughter them earlier. And we end up pumping them full of anti-biotics because we force them to eat corn, which makes them sick. And we have slaughterhouse factories where these poor beasts live, literally, shoulder to shoulder hock deep in their own excrement until the day they are marched to their slaughter.
If you want some more about corn (including the massive use of high fructose corn syrup in just about everything you can find on your supermarket shelves) and how its subsidy has warped our farm system and our food supply, you can type in “corn subsidies” in the web search box to your right.
Interestingly, young people who grow larger, faster, are statistically more likely to develop Type 1 disease. One can only wonder if there’s a connection to all the hormones we now eat (chicken also get hormones because, just like cattle, we can fatten them up quicker that way) and rapid growth among some young adults. They are getting a good dose of growth hormones because of what they eat.
Another concern is that our environments, paradoxically, may be too clean. This, some think, may cause our immune systems to weaken. Also, mother’s milk contains plenty of immune enhancing ingredients. So breast feed your kids and when they’re old enough, make sure they get a lot of outdoor exercise and nibble a few mud pies. And while you’re breast feeding them, lay off the packaged foods and industrial ag produced meats. If you must eat meat, buy pasture fed beef, free range chicken and wild caught fish. What the mother eats gets pumped into the baby, whether it’s still attached to the umbilical cord or the mother’s teat to feed.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of cows, let’s consider dairy. Don’t do dairy. It’s thought that infant baby formula using milk tinkers with the child’s developing immune system. And a number of nutritional experts recommend everyone reduce their dairy intake. If you want to see previous posts about the problem with cows and dairy, just type ”dairy” in the search box.
If you want a quick article listing the five suspects in creating our diabetes pandemic, you can go here. If you want a book length discussion of the diabetic pandemic, read Dan Hurley’s “Diabetes Rising: How A Rare Disease Became A Modern Pandemic, And What To Do About It.”
And if you want to start eating healthier, both for yourself and for your children, know beforehand it’s going to be tough to do in America. Almost everything on your local supermarket shelf is supercharged with high fructose corn syrup and fat and contains pesticide residues both inside and out. And all the meats are laced with fat, growth hormones, and anti-biotics.
Fast food eating is definitely out. You might as well take up smoking and heavy drinking instead.
If you have a health food supermarket nearby, such as Whole Foods or Trader Joes, you’re halfway home. But you still need to more carefully plan your meals, and for most of us who’ve grown up the past 40 years or so, that’s a lifestyle change all by itself.
And get some outdoor excercise, particularly if you live in a northern clime where clouds are more common than sun.
The good news is that if you even do half of this, your chances of developing Type 2 are lessened dramatically. And if you’re pre-diabetic, you can actually reverse the development.
Finally, contact your Congressperson and tell them to end the corn subsidy. Subsidize healthy foods instead.