This article is the first in an ongoing series that compares a Paleo-based diet and lifestyle with medication for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. Stay tuned for future articles on high blood pressure, heartburn/GERD, autoimmune disease, skin disorders, and more.
Insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes have reached epidemic proportions. In the U.S. today, someone dies from diabetes-related causes every ten seconds, and recent reports suggest that one-third of people born in 2010 will develop diabetes at some point in their lives.
Find out how the Paleo diet can prevent and even reverse diabetes naturally.
What is particularly horrifying about this statistic is that many of those who develop diabetes will be kids. Type 2 diabetes used to be a disease of the middle-aged and elderly. No longer. A recent Yale study indicated that nearly one in four kids between the ages of four and eighteen have pre-diabetes. And some regional studies show that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in children and young adults has jumped from less than 5 percent before 1994 to 50 percent in 2004.
It’s clear that type 2 diabetes is one of the most significant and dangerous health problems of our times, and we desperately need safe and effective treatments that won’t bankrupt our health care system. With this in mind, let’s compare two possible ways of addressing type 2 diabetes: conventional medication, and a Paleo diet.
Conventional Medication for Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is typically treated with the following (impossible to pronounce!) classes of drugs:
- Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors
- Dipeptidyl-peptidase 4 (DPP-4) inhibitors
- Sodium-glucose transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors
These medications vary in their mechanism of action. Some increase the secretion of insulin, others inhibit the release of glucose from the liver, and still others suppress appetite.
But none of them address the real, underlying causes of type 2 diabetes: the environmental factors that lead to blood sugar problems in the first place. These include poor diet, lack of exercise and too much sitting, and poor sleep, among others.
What’s more, these drugs also have side effects which range from relatively minor discomfort to serious complications. They include:
- Sulfonylureas: low blood sugar, upset stomach, skin rash or itching, weight gain
- Biguanides: upset stomach, tiredness or dizziness, nausea, kidney complications
- Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors: stomach pain, gas, diarrhea
- Thiazolidinediones: heart failure, heart attack, fractures, increased risk of bladder cancer
- Meglitinides: low blood sugar, weight gain, nausea and vomiting, headache
- Dipeptidyl-peptidase 4 (DPP-4) inhibitors: upper respiratory tract infection, sore throat, headache, pancreatitis and increased risk of pancreatic cancer
- Sodium-glucose transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors: urinary tract infections, yeast infections, renal and gall bladder issues, bladder cancer
While there’s no doubt that some people with type 2 diabetes do need medication (those that have completely lost the ability to produce insulin, for example), the list of side effects above suggests that these drugs should only be used when other safer—and often more effective—treatments fail.
A Paleo Diet for Type 2 Diabetes
One such treatment is a Paleo-type diet, which emphasizes the real, nutrient-dense foods our ancestors ate. It features meat and fish, vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and some starchy plants like sweet potatoes.
Studies have shown that the Paleo diet is an effective treatment for type 2 diabetes and metabolic problems in general. For example:
- A study which compared the Paleo diet with a standard, low-fat “diabetes” diet in people with type 2 diabetes found that the Paleo diet lead to greater improvements in weight, blood sugar, triglycerides, blood pressure, body mass index, and waist circumference than the diabetes diet. (1)
- Another similar study compared the Paleo diet with a low-fat diet in obese, postmenopausal women and found that the Paleo diet led to greater fat loss and metabolic improvements than the low-fat diet. (2)
- A third study (also of obese postmenopausal women) found that a modified Paleo diet improved several metabolic markers, including weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and kidney function. The Paleo diet also decreased the amount of fat stored in the liver by 50%. (3)
These studies clearly indicate that a Paleo diet is not only an effective treatment for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, it is often more effective than the standard “low-fat” diabetes diet that is recommended by groups like the American Diabetes Association.
But Paleo isn’t just about what you eat, it’s also about how you live. Sitting less, getting enough exercise, sleeping 7–8 hours a night, healing your gut, and managing your stress are also important steps you can take to prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes and metabolic problems. These changes can often have profound effects:
- People who work at a standing desk burn up to 75 percent more calories per day than people who sit for most of the day. (4)
- The more breaks you take from sitting, the lower your waist circumference, body mass index, and triglycerides, and the more stable your blood sugar. (5)
- A single night of partial sleep deprivation causes insulin resistance even in healthy people with no preexisting metabolic disease. (6)
I’ve seen incredible results using the Paleo diet (and lifestyle) in my work with patients, and I’ve heard countless stories like this, from reader Dave Harvey:
In mid-December 2011, I was awakened in the middle of the night experiencing rapid, erratic heartbeats which continued for an hour before I decided to have it checked out. After undergoing many tests as well as a cardiac catheritization to check for heart damage, I was told I did not have a heart attack, but that I did have atrial fibrillation and that I was a type 2 diabetic. The doctors put me on Metformin, a beta blocker, an ACE inhibitor and a statin which I took for a short time. I discontinued it after I began experiencing severe muscle cramping which CoQ10 didn’t help, and weird losses of memory.
I became interested in paleo and low carbohydrate eating to control my Type 2 diabetes. I discovered Chris Kresser’s website and began reading his blog posts which prompted me to devote myself to completely transforming my lifestyle into one of monitoring my diet, recording everything I ate and improving my health.
Since settling into a gluten free, low carb, paleo way of living in April of 2012, my weight has dropped to 140 pounds on a 5’6″ frame. My body fat, which was at about 30%, is 16% and my health has improved tremendously.
My T2 diabetes is in total remission, without medication. I do not have food cravings like I did with low-fat dieting. I don’t feel hungry shortly after eating. I don’t make multiple trips to the kitchen and refrigerator for snacks in the evenings. I have more energy throughout the day. I don’t have feelings of anxiety.
Lastly, and most importantly, it has been four months since I have experienced any sign of the atrial fibrillation which sent me to the hospital in December of 2011.
Unlike the prescription medications used to treat type 2 diabetes, which often have significant side effects, the only “side effects” of a Paleo-type diet and lifestyle tend to be positive things like improved energy, clearer skin, and smoother digestion.
When you look at it this way, which would you choose: pills or Paleo?
If your answer is Paleo, make sure to check out my book (just published in paperback with a new name: The Paleo Cure) for a detailed explanation of how to use the Paleo diet and lifestyle to prevent and reverse disease and feel better than you have in years. And don’t miss the bonus chapter (available online after you buy the book) on addressing type 2 diabetes with diet, lifestyle, and supplements.
As always, check with your doctor before starting or stopping any new treatment plan—including what I’ve suggested in this article. This is not intended to be medical advice, and is not a substitute for being under the care of a physician.