How to Treat COPD and Diabetes at the Same Time

Article written and reviewed by Tara Kemp
Published April 30, 2019

Mike has been living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for the past 30 years, a result of being born with severe asthma.

Unfortunately, in order to manage COPD, Mike is required to take steroids frequently, which is known to cause insulin resistance and cause long-term damage to many tissues.

In Mike’s case, steroid use coupled with a high-fat diet caused weight gain and a resulting diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Interestingly, the results of Mike’s c-peptide test show that his pancreas is producing very little insulin, and is in fact living with type 1.5 diabetes instead of his original diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

As is a common scenario, Mike initially didn’t realize just how far his health had declined. But when he saw a photo of himself at his son’s Bar Mitzvah and was surprised to see how overweight his frame had become, he decided that it was time to make a change.

Nutrition for Diabetes

Mike began researching nutrition, which led him to see a video of Dr. Anthony Lim (Medical Director of both the McDougall Medical Center and the attending physician at our last Mastering Diabetes retreat), which brought the idea of plant-based nutrition as treatment for diabetes into his perception.

From there, he found Mastering Diabetes, and this is what unfolded for him.

Mike learned that his previous diet, which he had perceived to be relatively healthy as he avoided soda and typical “junk foods,” was not as health-promoting as he had once believed.

Mike refers to himself as being obsessive, which means that he loves to know everything about a topic before making any changes. So this self-proclaimed “cheese addict” took some time to dig into the research.

Over the course of a few months, Mike read books like “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger, “The Starch Solution” by Dr. John McDougall, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, “The Longevity Diet” by Dr. Valter Longo, and “Breaking the Food Seduction” by Dr. Neal Barnard. He also watched the Mastering Diabetes YouTube videos numerous times to really let the information sink in.

After doing extensive research, he became convinced that a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food lifestyle was the answer for him. Most importantly, he knew that he didn’t need to worry about things like how to eat enough protein – he discovered that the science was rock solid and that with a variety of unprocessed plant foods, it is easy to meet all of his nutrition needs.

Once he knew he could go forward with full confidence, Mike jumped in 100% and hasn’t looked back.

The Results of Using Low-Fat, Plant-Based, Whole-Food Nutrition

Mike experienced results right away.

Within two months of changing his meals, Mike lost 33 pounds (15 kg).

He was able to stop taking 4 daily medications, including statin medication to reduce cholesterol. Using a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet, his cholesterol dropped from 276 (with statin) to 177 (no statin).

In 3 months, his A1c went from 6.7% to 6.0%, and despite having a c-peptide value of 1.0, he is able to live insulin-free using a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food lifestyle.

But it wasn’t just his diabetes that improved. Mike also was thrilled to find that his COPD symptoms abated from the dietary change as well.

Due to COPD, Mike has approximately 30% lung function. Yet despite this, he cycles approximately 155 miles per week (250 kilometers per week). He believes that his strength and endurance comes largely from eating a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet.

In addition, Mike’s COPD would always flare up in the winter months, causing him an incredible amount of discomfort and making it difficult to walk more than about 20 meters at a time.

But this year (2018) was the first year that he experienced minimal lung inflammation, making it much easier to breathe and exercise regularly. He attributes this improvement in COPD symptoms to a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food lifestyle.

What Mike Eats

When it comes to his meals, Mike likes to keep things simple. Some of his typical meals include:

  • Oat groats with berries, raisins, and a mix of raw seeds
  • Fruit
  • Curry with tofu
  • Brown rice and vegetables
  • Big vegetable salad
  • Bean and lentil chili
  • Whole wheat pasta with soup
  • Buckwheat or quinoa paired with soup or mixed vegetables
  • Spelt bread with a small amount of almond butter
mike lunch optimized
mike salad
mike dinner

A New Life

Today, Mike lives life with a new sense of vigor. He loves the food that he eats and he has confidence in his health for the first time in decades.

While he is still living with COPD and type 1.5 diabetes, and is likely to do so for the remainder of his life, Mike knows that he is as healthy as he can be despite these conditions.

He told us, “If I wasn’t on the diet that you guys recommend, I hate to think where I’d be.” But thankfully, he’s here, and he’s doing the Mastering Diabetes Program 100%, so he doesn’t have to.

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About the author 

Tara Kemp

Tara Kemp is the Director of Nutrition Education at Mastering Diabetes. She has been active in the field of health and nutrition for many years, including working with Forks Over Knives, Engine 2, and Dr. Neal Barnard and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Tara has a bachelor's degree in Education from Bucknell University, a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from eCornell, and is a Certified Food For Life Instructor through the Physicians Committee.