About a month ago, I discovered a blog. This in itself isn't anything special, seeing as my Internet D travels often lead me to stumble across others people's stories about their diabetes, either by virtue of recommendations, becoming 'friends' with another person with diabetes online, or via the old fashioned way - browsing. This was no different, I happened upon it with a few simple clicks of the mouse. But there was something different about the content of this blog. Instead of talking CGMs, pumps, frustrations and high points like most other blogs I follow, this blog talked about managing type 1 diabetes without the use of insulin. Now, I have seen my fair share of scams, fraudulent claims and tall tales around any number of so-called cures for diabetes and in all honesty, my initial reaction was that this must be another one. Perhaps they are selling another 'cure'. Drink this potion (at the very [un]reasonable cost of £79.99 per 20ml bottle) and you will be free of diabetes. But this was not the case - nowhere was the mention of potions or magic beans.
So I read on with interest - and in truth, a little caution - as I read about a little girl named Kylie. Kylie's parents had suffered the same traumatic news that many other parents across the world have had to come to terms with. My parents did. Maybe yours did, or maybe you are the parent who has had the same devastating news.
"Your child has diabetes."
Just as with many other parents, Kylie's learnt in time that their daughter would rely on daily injections, blood testing and countless appointments with specialists each year. Only this couple were different; they decided very early on that they would try anything and everything to spare their child from this fate. They started researching, reading and experimenting; they toyed and juggled with all kinds of foods, until they pinpointed which foods had the greatest impact on Kylie's BGs. Slowly they started to remove all those foods from her diet, until eventually, Kylie no longer needed injections. This, was the blog that started to change my view of food.
Contrary to my suspicions that this must be a one in a million case, I soon found others online who were also experiencing life without injections. Many were children, but there are also the odd adults here and there. They all had one thing in common; they had caught the disease and started lowering their carbs during the 'honeymoon period', when they're body still had a reasonable percentage of functioning cells. Something I doubt I have. But still I set about contacting as many people as I could, with a little [perhaps naive] hope that maybe one day I too could live without injections. As much as I love my pump and as much as it has changed my life and as much as I sing its praises, I would do almost anything to be free of the daily grind that is in effect, self harming for the purpose of living. But it comes at a price. Carbohydrate is all but a curse word for these families. Anything with carbohydrate, such as oats, potatoes, pasta, whole grains, most dairy and rice is just not possible if you want your blood sugars to stay level. How is it that these people manage it?
One of the immediate discoveries I made, was that all of those who followed these strict low carb, high protein diets, followed a plan by a Dr Bernstein.
Dr Richard Bernstein is a Type 1 diabetic himself. Over his years of living with diabetes, he had begun to suffer a number of complications. And we are not talking 'small' complications like tingly fingers or the odd blurry vision brought on by high sugars. Not that I think those are small per se, but in terms of what can go wrong, these are at the lower end of the scale, for me at least. But Dr Bernstein had neuropathy in both his legs, his sight was all but permanently damaged and most importantly, his kidney problems meant that he had a sell by date of 5 more years on his life - which he discovered through his own research into the condition he had. At this point, Dr Bernstein bought himself a home blood testing kit. Something that you and I take for granted on a daily basis. We read the results and either curse or rejoice. They can now be bought for little more than £10 and sometimes you even get them free. Way back then, before they were available for domestic every day personal use, Dr Bernstein had to enlist the help of his physician wife, and bought himself the 3 lb bulky device which cost hundreds of dollars and was by no means portable. But with this device, Dr Bernstein also embarked on a similar journey to that of Kylie's parents and the many other diabetics who have found a way to control sugars either by diet alone, or by diet and minimal medication, with minimal side effects in terms of hypers and hypos. The problem was, Dr Bernstein at the time wasn't a Doctor. He was an engineer whose claims about controlling diabetes through diet were shrugged or laughed off.
How could this man claim to know anything about diabetes? He may have it, but we have the knowledge of how to treat it.
Well, Dr Bernstein refused to give up here. He subsequently enrolled at medical school and gained the MD after his name that would allow him to finally influence the teachings of the so-called 'experts' of the time and devise his own A-Z guide of how to control BG using diet and finely tuned insulin administration.
Dr Bernstein's method is now one of the most widely advocated methods of treating type 1 diabetes in the US, and would appear to me, to be snowballing at an astounding rate. Thank you Mister Internet, because I for one would never have discovered this for myself without the use of my trusty keyboard and Google search engine.
I have been reading Dr Bernstein's book - 'The Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Normalizing Blood Sugars' for about a week now, and have already learnt so much more than I could ever write in one post. Like the reason behind sudden sharp hypers after a meal when I 'stuffed myself', despite having carb counted to within an inch of reason.
I am now starting to experiment with my own diet, toying here and experimenting there - so far with reasonable success. In my first 4 days, I did not have a single blood sugar over 8.4mmol (151 mg/dl). I have not gone as far as cutting back as much as the book suggests, purely at this time because I am only on chapter 4 and don't know how or what to avoid at this point. I also have to admit, that right now I can't quite get my head around how cutting out whole grains and dairy can be good for anyone. I know that the rules of a healthy diet don't always apply to diabetics, but I have been trained for 24 years to know that low fat, high carbohydrate (without even a single mention of protein!) is the way to go. Without a doubt any change in diet takes some degree of choice and reason, but to cut most food groups out all together is something I am still unsure about.
But for someone whose obituary had all but been written (sorry for the coarse idea, but if you read the book you too would realise how severe some of the complications really were), this person turned their life around and still now at the age of 74, lives a healthy 'normal' life.
The jury is still out for me whether I would be able to fully remove carbs all together (other than those from specific vegetables). I am at present firmly in the school of thought that food is medicine, it is fuel - here for the purpose of keeping our bodies nourished. But I am also in the school of thought that food is medicine, it is our fuel. Confused? Are those not the same thing? Well, I truly believe that sometimes a meal out with friends is the best medicine. Sometimes when you have had a tough day, coming home to a nice 'naughty' dinner or a film with pop corn or ice cream as a treat, outweighs the 'damage' that it can do to all of us in the D club.
However, that being said, if Dr Bernstein managed to not only outlive his 'expiration date' by every 'professional's' opinion, but also reverse most of his complications particularly the more dangerous ones and still to this day manages his condition via insulin and a tailored diet, then why can't I? Is it all that dangerous to cut out certain foods? The fact Dr Bernstein is still walking this planet would suggest not...
I know that I will never be able to come off insulin all together. I know that after having had chronically high sugars for the majority of my teens has probably destroyed every last insulin producing cell I had left. But that is just toughr. Perhaps if I had caught myself in the very early stages of the disease, during the honeymoon period, just as Kylie's parents did, I would have stood a chance. Perhaps if my parents had had the tools I may have now found, it would be a different story. Perhaps today's blog would be about not having to inject, about having perfect sugars, about living without type 1.
Instead, today's blog is all about trying new things. I continue to read Dr Bernstein's book with fascination, sneaking a read at work, while my partner watches cricket or while I'm in the car. I continue to remain open-minded and hopeful.
I continue to travel on my diabetes journey and find new ways to tackle this disease.
So join me if you will as I begin to experiment with my own food regime, and use my experiments as a way to reach your own decisions about your condition. I hope that my future posts will offer some insight and clues as to what may be awry in your own diet. If not, then I am sorry. But if so, feel free to use me as your Guinnea Pig - I plan on doing it anyway!
Posts to follow!