The Root Cause of Diabetes Is Not Being Addressed
In Chinese Medicine, we have a fundamental principle that describes the search for the root cause of disease, it’s called the principle of the root and the branch. In Chinese it’s translated as the “baio” and the “ben”. Biao means branch while ben means root. The root being primary disease and the branch being secondary disease, or symptoms.
The Root And The Branch
When I think back to my years in Traditional Chinese Medical School, I can still hear my Chinese teachers lecturing us hour after hour, over and over drilling into our minds,
“you must always consider the biao and the ben!”
“which is the baio and which is the ben?”
“You must know the ben to treat the biao!”
or sometimes just “biao-ben?”
We were constantly being challenged to think deeply about the root cause of disease. This is a hallmark of Traditional Chinese Medicine and it is the very reason I pursued a career in the arena of the baio-ben. We are always searching for the root because we know a patient can never fully recover without understanding imbalance at the deepest level.
Modern Medicine: Caught Up In The Branches
Modern medicine is really good at treating the branch aspect of disease. We have many kinds of branch treatments. For instance, Tylenol for a fever or inhalers for asthma. Sometimes branch treatments are life saving and have great value. This post is not to diminish those treatments or proclaim that root ideology should be applied at every moment of a particular disease cycle. But when we only focus on the branch, we sacrifice health in the long run.
Modern medicine also can have moments where it is very good at treating the root cause of a disease. For instance, antibiotics are a good choice for someone who has a severe, life-threatening bacterial infection. More recently, phage theory is being tested to fight resistant bacterial strains. These are necessary endeavors.
However, there is one area of disease where modern standard of care is really caught up in branch treatment. This is type 2 diabetes, now a worldwide epidemic. Let’s break it down.
Type 2 Diabetes: A Dietary Disease
Type 2 Diabetes is primarily a dietary disease. It is caused by the overproduction of insulin in the body in order to handle blood sugar. Insulin production is stimulated by carbohydrate consumption. Consistently high insulin levels lead to insulin resistance which renders insulin ineffective. When insulin can’t do its job, blood sugar goes up.
So, is the root cause of diabetes the overproduction of insulin? Or is it the over-eating of carbohydrates? Or is it the high blood sugar?
Well, it’s not the high blood sugar. The sugar is a big problem, but it’s merely a symptom. The high rate of insulin production as a result of high carbohydrate intake is the root cause of the disease. When the pancreas has to run insulin all day to deal with a steady stream of carbs, the cells of the body will start to shut down insulin receptors. Now glucose isn’t being pushed into cells and stays in the bloodstream. So, the body makes more insulin and thus, becomes more insulin resistant and thus, more sugar hangs around the bloodstream. It’s a vicious cycle.
The Root Cause of Diabetes: High Insulin Production Due to Carbohydrate Intolerance
The reason the body shuts down insulin receptors is because high insulin all the time is not a normal physiological state for the human body. Insulin is meant to be episodic. Most hormones work this way. They do their job and shut down until they are needed again. But if you are eating toast with breakfast, a banana for a snack, a sandwich at lunch, potatoes at dinner and then some fruit for dessert- you have insulin running all. day. long.
Modern Diabetes Care: Treat The Blood Sugar
What is the standard treatment for type 2 diabetes? First, people are advised to “watch their sugars”. Meaning, patients are sort of educated on the dietary aspects of their disease. Often they are told not to eat processed sugars or too many carbohydrates. But the problem I find, is that most patients don’t understand why their blood sugar is high outside of the idea that eating sugar causes high blood sugar.
Diabetes patients are also told to watch their dietary fat intake. I’ve never understood why this is the case. It’s as if doctors and dieticians are scared of fat when we now know that most dietary fat is healthy. Fat has a negligible impact on insulin production, so it is a great source of energy that will not exacerbate the root cause of the disease. In fact, many type 2 diabetics are able to reverse their diabetes in the context of a medically supervised high-fat, low carb diet.
I recently had a patient who has been struggling with high fasting blood sugar. He was told by his conventional doctors to “watch his sugars” and to “eat fruit instead of processed carbs.” His fasting glucose readings remained high in the mornings and he seems confused. “But all I had for dessert last night was an orange!” he proclaimed.
Well, sometimes it’s also grapes, sometimes it’s bananas, apples or some other kind of high-sugar fruit. Sometimes it’s those “healthy whole grains”. The bottom line is anything that increases insulin should be restricted because type 2 diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance.
The Main Focus: Medications And Bad Dietary Practice
The main focus for many type 2 diabetics is on medications like exogenous insulin and metformin. There are problems with this approach. Most obviously, it does not address the root cause of the issue. Secondly, it contributes to disease progression.
Insulin is a fat-storage hormone. When people start taking insulin to lower their blood sugar, they typically gain weight. This exacerbates the insulin resistance and they eventually need even more insulin and they continue to gain even more weight. Conventional standard of care is actually making people worse.
I recently sat with a savvy diabetic patient who, while in the hospital for minor surgery, was given a “diabetic patient breakfast”. This particular patient has been working diligently on her carbohydrate intake through periods of fasting and a low-carb diet. She said, “Amy, do you want to know what they fed me for breakfast?”
Here it comes.
“French toast with sugar-free syrup, oatmeal and a banana.”
This is a great example of diabetic standard of care in America. Instead of giving a diabetic patient a good-quality breakfast with healthy protein, fat and low-carb vegetables, we give them the very thing that exacerbates their disease.
We really need to start thinking this through.
The Devastating Impact of Diabetes
The impact of prioritizing the branch over the root is nothing short of devastating. By the time a person is diagnosed with full-blown diabetes, it has likely been brewing for many years. With poor management or symptom-focused standard of care, the impact of diabetes on the human body includes kidney damage, nerve damage, poor eyesight and cognitive impairment. Diabetics are also at a higher risk of infections, heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s.
Diabetes damages small and large vessels as it progresses and can wreak havoc to almost every system of the body. People lose limbs, eyesight and sexual function. No system in the body is spared.
I pass a dialysis clinic on my way home from work every day. It didn’t used to be there. But the fact is, dialysis clinics are expanding all across America. A quick Google search of my hometown revealed 3 dialysis clinics within a 10-mile radius. Due to the huge increase in diabetes and poor management of disease, dialysis clinics are now big business. This trend is alarming to say the least.
Standard of Care Needs To Change Now
Standard of care that solely focuses on lowering blood sugar with medications may help slow progression but it will not stop diabetes. If we focus on the root cause of diabetes– insulin resistance due to carbohydrate intolerance, we can then begin to reverse the disease and reduce a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Helping patients understand the root cause of their disease is the first step. We then need to help patients implement the changes necessary to reverse their disease. This comes through personalized nutrition, health coaching and individualized care. Each person has their own needs, challenges and preferences. With the guidance of knowledgeable, caring clinicians, patients can be empowered to do what is best for themselves. No more getting caught in the branches of misguided, symptomatic treatments. It’s time to dig up that tree and get to work. We all deserve better.
If you have questions about personalized nutrition for diabetes management, please call my office today at 415-635-9933 or make an appointment for a complimentary consultation and we can discuss your options. We have several programs to choose from that include personalized nutrition, metabolic programs for health, acupuncture for diabetes management, lab analysis and personal chef services.