What has changed to cause this alarming uptick in diabetes over the last 40 years, and how can we protect ourselves from this insidious malady? Statistics show that diabetes and pre-diabetes has increased by 33% over the last 40 years. By some estimates, nearly 1 in 10 Americans is either diabetic or showing metabolic signs which will quickly become a full blown case of the disease, although many people are unaware they have the condition. The question is, what has changed over this time to have caused this epidemic? While there are a number of factors which have contributed to the dilemma, many health researchers are narrowing in on two key suspects: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and Systemic Inflammation.
How can we place blame for the diabetes rise on an all-natural sweetener such as HFCS? Beginning in the early 1970’s, the use of this sweetener was increasing as an inexpensive additive, subsidized by the government to allow farmers to plant massive amounts of the crop. It began showing up in every soft drink, fast foods and baked goods. Today you would be hard pressed to find any processed food which does not contain HFCS or a derivitive. Recent studies are now demonstrating that HFCS is not processed by the liver, and therefore does not trigger the natural mechanism used by our body to detect and process calories. Our brain does not register the sweetener as caloric intake, causing us to continue eating. We never get the ‘full’ signal. Further evidence is now emerging that HFCS causes insulin to become resistant to the proper metabolism of glucose in the blood, meaning that sugars are not efficiently ushered into our cells for energy. The sad truth about this corn-based product is that it really is not a natural food element. it has been processed by man and is not viewed a digestible food by our body. It is actually seen as an invading enemy which causes our body to mount an offensive through the immune response. While this is a normal response to an infection, it is not good for the body to engage the HFCS enemy every time we eat. This leads to low-grade inflammation which is known to be the root cause of many diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many cancers.
We don’t have to look far today to see the exponentially increasing population of overweight and obese individuals. Upwards of 70% of adults in most Western countries fall into one of these two classifications. And new studies now confirm that excess body fat (especially around the mid section) is a direct cause of inflammation throughout the body. The common belief for many years was that fat was an inert cellular matrix within the body which was simply unsightly. We now understand that our fat is a living organ which sends cellular signals to our organs when in distress. We hear that signal loud and clear. Body fat has an amazing capacity to expand, and evolutionary design which has allowed our species to flourish for many generations. But, this same mechanism of survival may also be our downfall. Once our fat tissues (adipocytes) have multiplied and expanded to maximum capacity, they release chemical messengers into the blood stream which cause systemic inflammation. Levels of homocysteine and C-reactive protein rise in the blood, which in turn causes excessive levels of inflammation in our tissues, as our immune system attempts to fight the never ending surge of inflammation-mediated byproducts. All of this was necessary from an evolutionary perspective, as our bodies adapted to stress factors related to everyday living. But today, these deep rooted survival mechanisms are the root of our diabetic and cardiovascular problems. This metabolic disturbance is directly related to the initiation of diabetes, as it upsets the intricate hormonal balance within our body.
How then to avoid a lifetime of misery from diabetic complications? To begin, it is essential to eliminate high fructose corm syrup products from the diet. This is much easier said than done for most. It means the elimination of all refined and packaged foods including breads, pasta, cereals and any wheat or corn based items. Switch from soft drinks to natural drinks such as tea and water. Monitor your blood sugar by picking up an inexpensive meter at the local drug store. Your target goal is a fasting reading of 70 – 85 (72 is optimal), and never higher than 90. An even more important test is after meals. Test 1 and 2 hours after eating, and target a 1 hour reading of no more than 140, and a 2 hour reading no higher than 120. Adjust your food choices accordingly, as different people have different carbohydrate tolerance levels. New studies indicate that pancreatic beta cells begin to die off at blood glucose levels above 140. Once the beta cell population is depleted, you are an insulin-dependent diabetic, and have doubled your chance of developing cardiovascular disease. By following some simple dietary guidelines, we can dramatically reduce our chances of being afflicted with diabetes, and must work hard to protect our children from the ravages of this horrible disease.