The United States is staring down two serious, and rapidly growing, health threats: type 2 diabetes and obesity. Both stem from a common set of problems, are facets of a common disease — henceforth called “diabesity” — and therefore have a common solution. That solution will involve nothing less than a revamping of the way we eat, commitment to active lifestyles, and stress management.
How did the diabesity epidemic begin?
The concept of diabesity provides a useful way of examining several health issues that are closely related: insulin resistance and its sequels, inflammation, gut dysbiosis, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The difficulty comes in establishing which one is primary because each worsens the others. However, chronic systemic inflammation seems to be central to them all. That in turn is worsened by chronic stress, whether it takes the form of emotional stress, lack of sleep, nutritional imbalance, or underlying illness.
Our bodies depend on a constant supply of hundreds of phytonutrients to function properly. However, as Americans eat more fast food, and less fruits and vegetables, those nutrients are not supplied in sufficient amounts to support good health. Intestinal bacteria depend on a good balance of nutrients from these sources too, and when pre-biotic factors are in short supply, the number of “good bacteria” declines and overgrowth of harmful ones like H. pylori occurs.
Processed food is rich in calories but low in nutrient density. So we develop nutritional deficiencies even though we are consuming too many calories and gaining weight, especially visceral fat, which acts like an accessory endocrine organ, pumping out pro-inflammatory molecules that drive the body to insulin resistance.
How do we begin to break the cycle?
Depending on your current level of inflammation, insulin resistance, or overweight, the time required to bring your body systems into balance can range from several weeks to a year or more. We address all of these issues by changing our lifestyles:
- Switching to a portion-controlled, high fiber, low glycemic load diet rich in healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil, etc.), leafy greens, onions, beans, and cruciferous veggies helps reduce visceral fat both directly by calorie control, and indirectly, by providing nutrients necessary to balance intestinal bacteria.
- Sitting less and walking more promotes weight loss and decreases visceral fat.
- Exercising vigorously immediately reduces systemic inflammation and lessens stress. It also enhances insulin sensitivity. Aim for at least four, and preferably five or six, intense, hour-long workouts per week. Include both strength training and cardiovascular exercise.
- Establishing regular sleep hours also aids recovery to full health by reducing stress and inflammation.
- Supplementing daily with curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound derived from turmeric, may improve insulin sensitivity.
If you already have type 2 diabetes, you may need to take medications to get blood glucose levels to return to the normal range until your new diet and exercise regimen is sufficient. Many people can eventually achieve drug-free control of blood glucose with persistence. It’s a small, and necessary, price to pay for abundant life and health.