Monday, November 26, 2007

Confusing Diagnoses - Diabetes?

Medical schools used to prepare graduates for most commonly occurring diseases. Diagnoses were based on presenting symptoms and signs, and proceeded to a treatment plan. Whether it was allopathic medicine or Chinese medicine, the situation was much the same: patient presentation lead to diagnosis. But some thing changed in the 1970s. Diagnosis became complicated. Cases of fatigue were not just anemia (allopathic) or qi and blood deficiency (Chinese). They were complex, convoluted, involved. Allopathic M.D.s blammed it on the patient and referred them to psychologists. The shrink business boomed. By the 1980s, it was clear that talk therapy wasn't working for these cases. Alternative medicine practitioners claimed to have the answer and their ranks swelled. In the 1990s, the internet took over with claims for rare and wild cures for the price of a bottle of herbal capsules. The truth is that none of these claimed solutions and cures worked for all people all of the time. In fact, they didn't work for most of the people most of the time. What was going on?

Let's take diabetes as an example. I was taught that there were two types of diabetes: a juvenile form and an adult form. The juvenile type needed insulin and the adult type only occurred in older people and usually didn't require insulin. These two types were also called insulin and non-insulin dependent diabetes. In fact, diabetes was not a common disease. Some thing changed, because gradually I was seeing more cases of adult diabetes and they were not getting younger.

Instead of considering why there were increasing numbers of diabetes in younger adults, the medical community simply relabeled the disease into type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non-insulin) diabetes. Then it got even more complicated. Another condition, similar to diabetes, labeled Syndrome X, appeared in doctors' offices. It formed a cluster of symptoms that crossed over into the cardiovascular system. Syndrome X was later relabeled as Metabolic Syndrome. But instead of stopping there, diabetes and metabolic disease continues to get more complicated and is more confusing to doctors than ever. What is going on?

In my practice, I started to see patients with low insulin levels in their blood, which should classify them as diabetic. However, they had none of the usual symptoms or any other signs. In fact, they usually presented as being hypoglycemic. What they were showing was a mixture of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Without elevated glucose over 126 mg/dL, these patients couldn't be classified as diabetic even if they had other symptoms such as difficulty managing weight that suggested diabetes. Patients were in a quandary and doctors were confused.

The Chinese medicine assessment was just as confusing. Rather than simple "spleen qi deficiency" they had a mixture of energy imbalances including with the qi of the liver and kidney, and often with the heart meridian. Strange indeed!

The easy answer was to blame all metabolic diseases, including diabetes, on the increasing incidence of obesity. However, thin people also get diabetes and have insulin resistance, an aspect of metabolic syndromes. Easy answer were obviously not working.

Now, we've found that some people have symptoms of type 1 diabetes but their lab test results suggest type 2. This mixed syndrome type has been called "type 1.5" or double diabetes. The mainstream view of allopathic physicians is that it is really the same disease or an over lay of two different but similar diseases of how the body regulates blood sugar. However, it's certainly more complicated than that as we know that at least 10 percent of people with typical type 2 diabetes have autoantibodies in their blood suggesting an autoimmune disease. Where do autoimmune diseases come from and why is the incidence of all types of autoimmune diseases increasing?

Conventional wisdom once again offers an elegant and simple answer: genetics. But the gene hypothesis of susceptibility is only part of the truth. Shoehorning people into clear cut diagnoses has proven inadequate for this disease over the last twenty-five years. It's time to look further at not only diet, but the quality of foods we eat...AND, to look at the influence of toxic chemicals in the environment that may trigger autoimmunity. Yes, there may be susceptible genes, but when immune imbalances occur the stakes go up and so do the costs of medical care for these individuals.

So what are some solutions? First, eliminate refined sugar and all refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta. Next, improve the function of your liver and pancreas. Eat less, attain normal weight, improve muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness. I provide more details in my free newsletter, which can be accessed through my website.

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