In a time when information travels at the speed of the internet, there continues to be a staggering amount of misinformation shared about type 2 diabetes. The distortion of the truth contributes to the growing epidemic across the world, with estimates that 422 million have been diagnosed with diabetes. Just as overwhelming are the numbers of people who suffer from prediabetes, a condition where your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.
An estimated 38 percent of Americans have prediabetes and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 percent of them don’t know they have it.
Unfortunately, even your own physician may share outdated information with you that won’t help to stabilize or reverse the condition. Despite the growing prevalence of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), the fact is that type 2 diabetes is completely preventable with a few simple, inexpensive lifestyle adjustments.
Impaired insulin and leptin sensitivity are two of the underlying triggers for hyperglycemia and the diagnosis of diabetes.
The rapidly rising number of people affected demonstrates the cause is not due to genetics, but is rather prompted by changes to national nutrition guidelines initiated by the now-refuted Seven Countries Study. Published in the 1950s by economist Ancel Keys, Ph.D., the study sparked a rather large increase in the quantity of carbohydrates recommended and a severe reduction in healthy fats. This triggers cellular resistance to the hormones insulin, ghrelin and leptin, and is the real foundation of high blood sugar.
Diabetes Now the No. 1 Cause of Death in Mexico
Today, diabetes is the leading cause of death in Mexico, followed closely by ischemic heart disease, a common consequence triggered by hyperglycemia.4 Diabetes accounted for 14.7 percent of all deaths in the country. According to early 2000 estimates, the total number of diabetics in Latin American countries will exceed the combined number in the U.S., Canada and Europe by 2025. The financial cost from disability and treatment in Latin America reached over $65 million in the early 2000s.
Rising rates of obesity in the last 40 years in Mexico has fueled the growing diabetes epidemic. The percentage of Mexico’s population that is overweight and obese has grown from less than 40 percent in 1975 to over 64 percent in 2014, just under the U.S. rate of 67 percent, but far past the global rate of 38 percent. Increasing weight gain is also related to soda consumption. In 2012, Mexico was the world’s leading per capita consumer, drinking approximately 176 liters (46.5 gallons) per person, per year. By 2016, after a 2014 sugar tax was imposed, per capita consumption fell slightly to 163 liters (36 gallons) per person, per year.
Drinking Coke has become such a cultural decision that, according to Dr. Salvador Villalpando, childhood obesity specialist at the Federico Gomez Children’s Hospital in Mexico City:
“About 10 percent of kids are being fed soda from zero to  months of age. By the time they reach  it’s about 80 percent. It’s cultural. Mexican mums like having chubby kids in their homes as it shows they’re feeding them properly. And they are so used to feeding them sodas, they don’t stop even when there is clean water.”
Costly Supplies Limit Care
People with diabetes in Mexico struggle not just with the disease and dietary choices, but also accessing medical care and supplies. Medication and supplies may cost as much as monthly housing in Mexico.
Dr. Carlos Aguilar Salinas, vice head of the endocrine department at Mexico’s National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition, said:
“In the middle of the 1970s and especially after the ’80s, the prevalence of diabetes exploded. Diabetes is now one of the biggest problems in the health system in Mexico. It’s the first cause of death. It’s the first cause of disability. It’s the first cause of early retirement. It’s the main cost for the health system.”
In 2015 there were over 11 million people diagnosed with diabetes, in a country with a total population of 127 million. The sheer number of people requiring care and follow up is straining the public health care system and reducing access to medical care. The system pays for severe complications of the disease, but the daily management of the condition is left largely to the patients. Unfortunately, this has left people open to influence by swindlers promising a cure in a bottle or shot, costing thousands of pesos on products that are useless and may be toxic.
Diabetes Kills More Americans Than Previously Believed
The number of people with diabetes in the U.S. is also growing, and recent research demonstrates more people may be dying from the condition than was originally believed. According to The Obesity Society, type 2 diabetes accounts for nearly 90 percent of all diagnosis of diabetes, and obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The CDC ranks diabetes as the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
However, analysis of death certificate information and follow up indicates a greater number of deaths should be attributed to diabetes. For the study, researchers analyzed data for participants who had previously participated in the National Health and Nutrition Survey and the National Health Interview Survey. Participants who subsequently died during the study were evaluated based on self-reporting for diabetes. The researchers then searched the death certificates for cause of death. Based on the survey data, over 11 percent had died from complications of diabetes, but less than 4 percent had diabetes complications mentioned on their death certificates. The researchers found:
“The proportion of deaths in which diabetes was assigned as the underlying cause of death (3.3 to 3.7 percent) severely understated the contribution of diabetes to mortality in the United States. Diabetes may represent a more prominent factor in American mortality than is commonly appreciated, reinforcing the need for robust population-level interventions aimed at diabetes prevention and care.”
Cost of Treating Diabetes Is Higher Than Other Diseases
The financial cost of treating diabetes extends to traditional medical care, indirect costs, disability and cost of treating complications. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, in 2013 diabetes health care costs were over $101 billion and topped the list of the costliest health care expenses.
Researchers traced costs related to 155 disease for 18 years. They found only 20 of those diseases were responsible for over half of all medical costs in the U.S. In terms of total dollars spent, diabetes was the most expensive. However, in their list of top 10 costly health care diagnoses, four others were health conditions commonly associated with a diagnosis of diabetes.
Ischemic heart disease ranked second on the list, costing over $88 billion. Other health problems associated with diabetes include vision and hearing problems, hypertension and depression. Indirect disability costs may also be related to nerve dysfunction, kidney disease, vision loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
Until now, the link between hyperglycemia and the increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive form of dementia, has not been clear. In a recent study, researchers discovered hyperglycemia damages immune function, impairing response in early Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, found hyperglycemia modified macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF or MMIF) in the brain of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. This may suggest sugar damage to MIF reduces some of the enzyme’s functions and blocks others completely. This may be related to the process that allows Alzheimer’s to develop.
Studies are gradually unearthing the complex changes in the brain that occur with the development of Alzheimer’s that may start as much as 10 years prior to clinical symptoms. During this pre-symptomatic period, toxic changes are setting the stage for development of disease.
Hyperglycemia in Pregnancy Increases Risk of Diabetes in Children
Doctors have long known that high blood sugar during pregnancy has a harmful effect on the growing baby. A recent small Danish study now suggests that when an infant is exposed to high blood sugar levels in utero it may trigger the production of altered fat cells, making the children more likely to develop metabolic disease in adulthood.
Researchers tested the adult children of 206 women who had diabetes during their pregnancy. The children had larger fat cells and secreted more leptin, a hormone made by fat cells that influences your feelings of hunger. Some of the women had diabetes prior to the pregnancy, while others developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy. They compared the results against a control group of children whose mothers didn’t have diabetes. The results from this study offer some clues about how hyperglycemia during pregnancy may increase the risk of diabetes later in life. Lead author Ninna Hansen of the University of Copenhagen talked about the results, saying:
“Fetal hyperglycemia affects fat stem cells and these defects can be detected several years later. If (high blood sugar) or diabetes is present during pregnancy, our study supports the importance of aiming at normal blood glucose levels to reduce the negative impact on the cells of the unborn baby. Women who are lean and fit before pregnancy have a reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy.”
Hyperglycemia during pregnancy also increases the risk to children for other disabilities, including cognitive disability, birth defects and autism. Infants born to mothers who experienced hyperglycemia during pregnancy may also have an increased risk of experiencing health difficulties immediately following birth including respiratory distress, hypoglycemia, polycythemia and iron abnormalities.
Daily Screen Time May Predict Risk of Diabetes
Past research has demonstrated an associated risk between spending more than three hours in front of a screen each day with type 2 diabetes in adults. However, a link between screen time and the risk of type 2 diabetes in children has been unclear. To probe this link, researchers surveyed nearly 4,500 children between ages 9 and 10 years. Several factors associated with the development of diabetes in children were measured, including total body fat, insulin resistance, blood pressure and physical activity. Of those surveyed, 41 percent spent one hour or less in front of a screen daily, while 28 percent spent between one and two hours, and 18 percent spent three or more hours each day.32 The researchers found a strong correlation between three or more hours of screen time and high levels of leptin, fasting glucose and insulin resistance. They commented on the results, saying:
“Our findings suggest that reducing screen time may be beneficial in reducing type 2 diabetes risk factors, in both boys and girls and in different ethnic groups from an early age. This is particularly relevant, given rising levels of type 2 diabetes, the early emergence of type 2 diabetes risk, and recent trends suggesting that screen time related activities are increasing in childhood and may pattern screen-related behaviors in later life.”
Mitochondrial Dysfunction Is at the Heart of Diabetes and Most Other Disease
In this short TED talk, Dr. Sarah Hallberg discusses the success she has treating people with diabetes, reducing their blood sugar using dietary choices. At the core of the pathology behind diabetes is mitochondrial dysfunction and eating a high-carbohydrate diet that bathes your mitochondria in glucose, which in turn suppresses mitochondrial metabolism. Your mitochondria are tiny energy producers inside most of your cells. They are the primary source of energy required to keep your body functioning optimally.
As mitochondrial function is at the heart of your health, optimizing it is extremely important to health and disease prevention. Mitochondrial dysfunction may lead to cardiovascular disease, depression, type 2 diabetes, stroke and neurological dysfunction. In essence, at the core of many diseases are dysfunctional mitochondria, and the diseases are simply different labels for a foundational pathology at the cellular level.
The good news is type 2 diabetes is easily preventable, and nearly 100 percent reversible. Four key lifestyle strategies to accomplish this are exercise (ideally including some high-intensity interval training once you’re able), non-exercise movement throughout each day, Peak Fasting and a whole food-based ketogenic diet. I explain the details of how to implement this kind of diet in my new book, “Fat for Fuel.” See more on this topic and find Dr Mercola’s book on his website.