Globally recognized physician Dr. Mark Hyman, MD has coined the term Diabesity to describe the physiological “lead-up” to diabetes and obesity in this country.
Medical screening for obesity, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes is focused on identifying individual risk factors such as high fasting blood sugar. Even with this approach, fasting insulin level can be more sensitive yet is seldom screened by primary care professionals.
The link between type II diabetes and poor blood-sugar control to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia goes much deeper than just high fasting blood sugar and other individual risk factors.
Just the mere presence of risk factors is already enough to increase your risk of diabesity and later health problems.
So if you’ve tacked on an extra 10-15 pounds over the last few years, despite your bloodwork looking “normal”, this article is for you.
As the prevalence of metabolic disease continues to rise, It is no longer safe to “wait” for a diagnosis to take action toward your health. There are plenty of warning signs before a metabolic disease presents itself in full form.
What Happened to “Eat this, Not That?”
While it can be easy to point the finger at the limitations of current “treatment”, standard nutrition advice over the last 20-30 years has not been so helpful either…
Nutrition advice for blood sugar-related problems like obesity, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and diabetes have focused on a “calories in, calories out”, “eat in moderation”, and “there is no bad food” model.
I personally feel that this reflects successful lobbying from key players in the food industry, not sound nutrition advice.
Let’s take a brief glance at a few private and public nutrition education campaigns…
- Coca-Cola, Merck, and others have supported a national “Exercise is Medicine” campaign – shifting the focus away from food.
- Hershey, Inc has sponsered a “Moderation Nation” campaign – you can eat anything you want, as long as it fits the now outdated “calories in, calories out” model of weight gain and metabolic burden.
- The United States government also sponsored a “Let’s Move” campaign that started off great but has been criticized for bending to food industry interests and focusing less on food and more on physical activity during the 2012 election season. Shifting the focus away from food and sugar and toward activity level is a recurring theme in Big Food-influenced policy.
- The sugar industry and related soft drinks have been implicated in paying for research that downplays the role of sugar in health and disease – and switch the focus to fats and lack of physical activity.
Coca-Cola, according to a former insider, also allegedly paid the NAACP and other civil rights groups to call pro-sugar tax advocates “racist”.
- Eligible foods on the USDA’s “food stamp” or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have included bakery cakes, soft drinks, candy, snack crackers, and ice cream.
Although these programs have made some contributions to the war on obesity and food insecurity, why does the focus always seem somewhat shifted away from food and sugar?
Frankly, because the players who benefit paid for it to be that way.
Diabesity Origins – The Sugar War
A February 2012 report from Nature, one of the most prestigious journals in the world called attention to sugar as potentially “toxic” and “addictive”, and proposed that added sugars be regulated and taxed like alcohol.
Not surprisingly, the news was received with mixed enthusiasm: food advocates cheered the article and food industry advocates jeered at its implications.
My intent is to highlight recent advances in research suggesting that weight problems and insulin resistance go beyond just an issue of “calories in, calories out” model and remind consumers of where the problems originate.
1. Sugar is biologically addictive.
Arguably, those “addicted” to sugar experience similar withdrawal signs and symptoms, and may rationalize their behavior despite receiving negative pressure from close friends and family, or even being diagnosed with life-threatening health problems like Diabetes.
Highly rewarding and “palatable” foods high in sugar, fat, and salt hijack brain regulatory systems and trigger higher intake of food.
2. Aggressive and Misleading Food Marketing to Children (also Adults):
Food behaviors are often rooted in the early years of life. Some experts believe that 95% of our subconscious patterning is developed before the ages of 5-6.
Now that research is showing added sugars to be inherently addictive, it brings up ethical questions when it comes to protecting our children during key developmental periods while maintaining freedom of parental choice.
Marion Nestle, Ph.D., NYU Professor and author of Food Politics (affiliate, non-affiliate) has covered food marketing to children in depth in her Food politics blog. She is 86 years old at the time of the most recent update to this article.
Considering the biologically addictive qualities of “added” sugars, it is my personal and professional opinion that subsidizing sugarcane agriculture with taxpayer money is hurting our country more than it helps. While sugar taxes have been proposed to offset costs and discourage consumers, it’s a slippery slope when the root cause comes more to subsidizing sugarcane and grain industries that sooner or later simply become straight profit to these companies at the expense of taxpayers. The subsidies also make processed foods cheaper than healthier choices.
My recent review on creating healthy habits shows that increasing education and awareness simply do not work to change behavior.
Instead, triggers like cost, taste, and convenience are key factors in food choices (3). Look to the subsidies first for the most upstream benefit.
3. Stress Imbalance:
Whether from physical, emotional, or chemical causes, stress may aggravate insulin resistance.
Those with a high degree of stress imbalance are at risk for fluctuations in blood sugar control. Cortisol, one of the body’s primary stress hormones, is independently correlated with insulin resistance.
If you are skipping meals, binging on high-sugar snacks, or even working out at high intensity more than 1-2+ times/week without proper recovery, you may be aggravating your body’s stress response, and indirectly, your body’s ability to control blood sugar properly.
As a result, you may experience hypoglycemic or low blood sugar symptoms, as well as fatigue, weight gain, and other pre-diabetic symptoms.
I believe personally and professionally that the hidden stress component of blood sugar-related health problems is a dangerously overlooked and critical piece of the puzzle. When sugar crashes, our stress system kicks in to bring our sugar levels back up in a vicious cycle.
4. Hidden Inflammation:
Chronic underlying inflammation, as well as bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections, can aggravate the body’s stress response, suppress the immune system, and may further aggravate blood sugar regulation.
Unidentified food allergies and sensitivities to certain foods such as wheat, grains, and milk may also be hidden sources of inflammation.
5. High Insulin Levels:
When you spike insulin levels, you can aggravate the balance of key hormones:
a. Sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone: which could lead to mild complications such as acne, but may aggravate deeper problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is the number one cause of infertility in women and is associated with both blood sugar dysregulation and sex hormone imbalance. Stress can further aggravate both associations.
b. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine: Surges of insulin (typically as a result of foods high in simple & refined sugars) create a satisfying surge in serotonin, after 20-30 minutes this surge subsides, and imbalances in serotonin and dopamine may remain. These imbalances may affect mood, appetite control, and general decision-making.
6. Internal and Environmental Toxicity:
Most people are unaware that we have some three pounds of healthy bacteria that line our digestive system. Likewise, many are unaware that unhealthy bugs can take their place.
When these healthy bacteria are replaced by unhealthy bacteria and yeasts (partly because of high sugar, high-processed food diets), the body is burdened with their wastes which have been shown to directly contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance, and the development of diabesity.
Widespread use of pesticides, herbicides, plasticizers, air pollution, and more are increasingly linked to diabesity development even at low doses.
The low-dose health effects of man-made pollutants are a growing concern with a solid backing of research – particularly with a link of these chemicals to Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance. Some chemicals have been referred to as “obesogens”.
You Already Hold the Keys to Diabesity Prevention
It’s a bit scary to take responsibility for your health. There are a lot of unknowns as you venture into trying new recipes and getting back in touch with real food (you know, the stuff that comes from plants and animals, not a chemical laboratory).
I get that it can be easy to feel anxious and overwhelmed. There are so many resources at your disposal to combat diabesity, and you do not have to be alone.
But remind yourself to be a consumer in your health care.
Healthcare is still a business run by humans. It’s important to learn how to ask better questions.
If you’re not getting satisfying answers, seek a second, third, or in some cases a twelfth opinion. This is how movements are born. Diabesity is a problem that needs to be fixed on the individual level – as higher level support will continue to be hijacked by big industry funds.
You probably know at least one small thing you can do differently today to improve your health. If you can’t do it today, it’s not small enough! Fancy results do not always necessitate fancy treatment approaches.
Get to work!