How Josh Recovered from Diabetic Shock Using a Plant-Based Diet

Born on the bayou of Thibodeaux, Louisiana, a region famous for its sausage-heavy cuisine, Josh was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 10 years old.

He was taught that the best way to manage type 1 diabetes was to eat more meat and calculate his insulin dosage based on his carbohydrate intake.

In the same way that eating a low-carbohydrate diet has misled millions of others living with diabetes, eating a meat-heavy diet didn’t work for Josh. 

He became obese, developed severe insulin resistance, and experienced extreme blood glucose highs and lows.

Since type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that is believed to have a genetic component, most people assume that the long-term complications of type 1 diabetes (such as diabetic shock, nerve pain, retinopathy, blindness, or limb amputation) are inevitable consequences of living with diabetes, and are not associated with eating a low-carbohydrate diet.

However, people living with type 1 diabetes can develop severe insulin resistance just like people living with type 2 diabetes. 

Diets high in fat and animal protein contribute to insulin resistance by causing your body to deposit fat inside muscle and liver cells. (1)

Fats stored outside of adipose tissue is called ectopic fat, which ends up in muscle and organ tissue.

When the amount of ectopic fat increases, your ability to use insulin to take up glucose from your bloodstream dramatically decreases. 

And when this happens, your body requires larger amounts of insulin to get glucose out of your blood and into your tissues to be used for energy or stored for later use.

The result is that glucose gets trapped in your blood, resulting in tissue “starvation” and high blood glucose– until a large enough amount of insulin is either injected (as is the case with type 1 diabetes) or produced by your pancreas (as is the case with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes).

Although type 1 diabetes is not a lifestyle disease, there is some evidence that meat and fat-heavy diets may increase the risk of developing this autoimmune condition.

In the 1990s, researchers noticed that type 1 diabetes is associated with increased intake of animal-based protein and saturated fat. 

Those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes also had higher intakes of protein, nitrosamines, and nitrates or nitrites (all components of meat) than non-diabetic individuals (2).

More recent research found that fatty acid biomarkers of meat and dairy intake were positively associated with an increased risk of autoimmunity to pancreatic beta cells (the specific type of cells that produce insulin) (3).

Another way in which meat-heavy diets may increase the risk for an autoimmune attack of insulin-producing beta cells is by causing “leaky gut” – otherwise known as intestinal hyperpermeability. 

Eating meat alters your gut microbiome and triggers inflammation in the cells that make up your gut lining (4).

This microbiome-induced chronic inflammation can be exacerbated by the advanced glycation end products (AGEs) found in both fresh types of meat (including grass-fed beef and pasture-raised poultry), as well as processed meat.

For an idea of how many AGEs are found in meat and fatty foods compared with low-fat, plant-based foods, consider the following AGE exposure found in commonly eaten foods:

Food Item

Serving Size

Number of AGE Units Per Serving

Hamburger

1 average burger from fast food restaurant

5,418

Steak, grilled

3 ounces

7,000

Butter

1 tbsp

3,000

Skinless chicken breast, roasted

3 ounces

4,800

Avocado

½ average-sized Hass avocado

1,200

White rice, cooked

3.5 ounces

9

White potatoes, boiled

3.5 ounces

17

Banana

1 medium-sized Cavendish banana

9

Vegetables, grilled

3.5 ounces

200

Green beans, canned

3.5 ounces

18

References: 5, 6

Because Josh was never informed about the detrimental effect of eating large amounts of animal products, he would go to Burger King and order two sausage and cheese croissants with French toast sticks for breakfast, then go to McDonald’s for a spicy McChicken and two double cheeseburgers at lunch, and then finally end his workday with a large Domino’s meat lover’s pizza.

He gained so much weight that he stopped weighing himself, and he became so insulin resistant that it became nearly impossible to predict how much insulin to inject at each meal. In addition, Josh felt depressed about the state of his health.

Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, Josh nearly died of diabetic shock twice in one week.

This is when Josh knew it was time to change his lifestyle from the ground up. A friend of his had recently lost 220 pounds using a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet, so Josh decided it would be worth experimenting to see if this same lifestyle could help him manage type 1 diabetes.

Josh started by completely eliminating meat from his diet and increasing his intake of fruits and vegetables. In a short period of time, Josh gained a lot of energy, so he began jogging every day. 

Eventually, his jogging habit motivated him to begin running half-marathons, and now he is training for his first full marathon.

Now instead of eating fast food, Josh enjoys a bowl of oats with almond milk and 3-4 bananas for breakfast. For lunch, he eats 2 baked potatoes, apples, and vegetables. At dinner, Josh usually eats 4 cups of beans or lentils with whole grains and leafy green vegetables.

Josh has increased his carbohydrate intake from 50-75 grams per day to 600-700 grams per day, and his insulin requirements have decreased from 70-80 units per day to 20-30 units per day.

Take a look at the following table to see how Josh’s biomarkers changed between November 2016 and September 2018:

Biomarker

November 2016

September 2018

Dietary Carbohydrate

(grams per day)

50 - 75

600 - 700

Dietary Fat

(grams per day)

unknown

~10

Total Insulin

(units per day)

70 - 80

20 - 30

Fasting Blood Glucose

(mg/dL)

200 - 300

80 - 100

A1c (%)

> 11.0

5.6

Total Cholesterol

(mg/dL)

unknown

125

LDL Cholesterol

(mg/dL)

unknown

67

Body Weight (lbs)

> 230

151

Blood Pressure

(mm/Hg)

190/100

101/90

In addition to the physical benefits Josh experiences from living a plant-based lifestyle, he no longer feels depressed and is excited that he is finally in control of his blood glucose, for the first time in many years.

Join us in giving Josh a giant high five for a job extremely well done!

References

Reverse Insulin Resistance Using Your Food as Medicine

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About the Author

Jamie Koonce, DACM, L.Ac, Dipl.OM is the Digital Content Manager at Mastering Diabetes. She holds a Doctorate degree in Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology & Anthropology from Hendrix College, and Certification in Plant-Based Nutrition through eCornell. Jamie has been enjoying a plant-based lifestyle since 1999. In addition to writing at Mastering Diabetes, she teaches continuing education courses to other health professionals on the science behind a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food lifestyle for specific medical conditions.