Is your diabetes diet worsening your diabetes?

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If you have diabetes, whether it’s type 1 or type 2, your doctor likely recommended a diet endorsed by the American Diabetes Association. But did you know the diabetic diet recommends foods that could be slowly worsening your diabetes condition?

Turns out there is more to a diabetic diet than grams of carbs and sugar, although those are vitally important.

For people with type 1 diabetes and for an estimated 20 percent of people with type 2 diabetes, diabetes is an autoimmune disease.

This means the immune system is attacking and destroying the parts of the pancreas involved in insulin production and regulation. Over time destruction is severe enough the body can no longer adequately regulate blood sugar.

Certain foods on the diabetic diet, such as gluten and dairy, have been shown to both trigger autoimmunity and make it worse.

Many type 2 diabetics have autoimmune diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes, which begins in childhood, understand diabetes is an autoimmune condition.

However, many people with type 2 diabetes can go for years without knowing there is an autoimmune component to their diabetes, which generally sets in during adulthood.

This type of diabetes is called type 1.5 diabetes, latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA), or even double diabetes.

Type 1.5 diabetes involves the lifestyle components of being overweight or obese and eating a diet that promotes high blood sugar, along with the autoimmune component that slowly destroys the insulin-producing abilities of the pancreas.

Where the diabetic diet fails

Although grams of carbs and sugars are vital considerations for people with all types of diabetes, what is overlooked is the immune reactivity of foods.

Research shows a link between certain foods and the triggering or exacerbating of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 and type 1.5 diabetes.

If you have an immune reaction to certain foods and consume them daily, they are going to keep the immune system in a constant state of inflammation and attacking body tissue. This makes blood sugar continually difficult to manage, despite careful consumptions of carbs and sugars.

Foods to avoid with autoimmune diabetes

The two top foods to avoid if you have autoimmune diabetes are gluten and dairy. Both have been linked to a number of autoimmune diseases, including diabetes.

Gluten has been shown to trigger an autoimmune attack against the GAD enzyme  which plays a role in insulin regulation and brain function. Casein, the protein in dairy products, has also been linked with autoimmune diabetes.

If you have a sensitivity to these foods or other common immune reactive foods, it is worth getting tested or doing an elimination diet  Knowing which foods are provoking an autoimmune attack can help you better manage your type 1 or type 1.5 diabetes.

Ask my office for more advice on ways to tame inflammation and manage your autoimmune diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s important to rule out autoimmunity.

What HbA1c and a glucometer can tell you about disease risk

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High blood sugar is ground zero for chronic disease: diabetes (obviously), heart disease, dementia, autoimmune disease, chronic pain, and hormone imbalances. Testing your HbA1c on a blood panel can tell you whether high blood sugar is setting you up for major health problems.

High blood sugar can:

  • Trigger chronic inflammation, thus setting the stage for autoimmune disease
  • Radically imbalance hormones, causing high testosterone in women, high estrogen in men, PCOS, PMS, hormone deficiency, and imbalances in hormones that regulate satiety so that you’re always hungry
  • Damage the walls of blood vessels
  • Damage brain tissue and accelerate brain aging, increasing the risk for dementia (some researchers call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes)

High blood sugar is also associated with eye disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, and stroke.

Getting a handle on your blood sugar can help you better manage or prevent these radical health imbalances. The HbA1c shows you your average blood sugar levels over the last three months and is a simple way to look at the influence of blood sugar on your health.

HbA1c stands for glycated hemoglobin, which refers to a protein in red blood cells that has bonded with glucose. The higher your HbA1c the higher your blood sugar and the greater your risk for disease.

Using standard lab ranges, an HbA1c less than 5.7 is normal; 5.7%–6.4% indicates pre-diabetes; and if it is 6.5 or higher this indicates diabetes.

However, in functional medicine, we shoot for optimal health and like to see an HbA1c in the range of 4.6%–5.3%. One study shows heart disease risk rises considerably when HbA1c is over 5%  and another shows risk is higher when it’s over 4.6%.

Although HbA1c is said to look at your average blood sugar levels over the last three months, not everyone’s blood adheres to a strict schedule  In fact, people with pre-diabetes or diabetes have a higher turnover of blood cells, while those with normal blood sugar have longer lasting red blood cells, so that an HbA1c can reflect the last 5 months.

It’s important to look at HbA1c along with a couple of other blood sugar markers. If you’re working to manage your blood sugar, a glucometer is very useful to measure blood sugar throughout the day.

Checking fasting blood sugar first thing in the morning before you eat or drink (except water) is a popular indicator of blood sugar health, with optimal ranges being in the low 80s. A fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL or higher indicates pre-diabetes in functional medicine (126 mg/dL is considered diabetes).

However, people on very low-carb diets or on ketogenic diets can also have fasting blood sugar around 100. If you’re fasting blood sugar is around 100 but your HbA1c and post-prandial (below) blood sugars are healthy, then you know this mechanism is at work.

It’s highly useful to look at your blood sugar two hours after meals. This is called post-prandial blood sugar. Optimal blood sugar two hours after a meal should be under 100 to 120 mg/dL.

Lowering blood sugar levels requires eliminating sugar and sweets, minimizing carbohydrate intake (especially processed carbs such as pasta and bread), eating plenty of fiber, avoiding inflammatory foods, and exercising daily. Certain herbs and nutrients can also help lower your blood sugar. Ask my office for advice.