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Introduction: Time to Make a Change
In early 2004, Joey Hinson sat attentively while I spoke at a Wednesday night service at my home church, Christ Fellowship Church, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. That evening, I described how a thirty-nine-year-old acquaintance of mine had suddenly died from a heart attack, leaving behind a beautiful wife, four energetic kids, and a thriving ministry. "I had been asked to speak to this father and husband about getting on God's health plan, but we never connected in time," I said that evening. "How would his life--and those who mattered most to him--had changed if he had managed to turn around his health in time?"
A year later, my church asked me to speak again, and this time Joey introduced himself after the service. "When you spoke a year ago, that story about that thirty-nine-year-old guy really did a number on me. You see, I'm also a husband and a father, and I felt like you were speaking directly to me. I knew I had to do something."
"Tell me about it," I said, intrigued, but humbled by what I had heard.
After he finished describing the events of the past year, I asked Joey if we could share his story with readers of the Great Physician's Prescription for Diabetes. Here's what happened in his words:
Throughout much of 2003, I began feeling horrible. This was something new for me because I thought I was in good shape, even for a guy who had turned fifty. I had played football in college--I lined up as an offensive lineman at Mars Hill College in North Carolina--so I was encouraged to "eat big" when I was growing up. It was hard to get away from that mentality after my college days were over, however. Over the years, I gained some weight--probably a good twenty or thirty pounds extra on my six-foot, two-inch frame. When I tipped the scales at 250 pounds a few years ago, I told myself to do something about it. I attended so many Weight Watchers meetings that I received a lifetime membership, but once I went off their food, the weight always came right back.
I think it's because I liked to eat Southern foods too much. My weakness was fried chicken, black-eyed peas, and collard greens with the ham bone cooked in, or country-fried steaks dripping with gravy and yellow rice. Dessert had to be a rich chocolate cake or pecan pie.
Cheeseburgers and fries worked just fine for lunch. I worked as the transportation director at King's Academy, a private Christian school near my hometown of Royal Palm Beach, Florida, and a couple of times a week I borrowed the school's golf cart and drove to the Wendy's or Burger King located next door to school. People looked at me funny when they saw me ordering lunch from my golf cart, but I didn't mind. I was having fun.
What wasn't fun was the shortness of breath and lack of energy that I began experiencing after turning fifty. Our house has a good-sized lawn that normally takes me several hours to mow. In the muggy Florida summer heat, I was too pooped to tackle the project. I'd lie down on the sofa, gasping for air and frightened by how fast my heart was beating. I felt really bad.
Donna, my wife, was naturally concerned, and I was bothered that I didn't have the energy to keep up with our youngest son, a ten-year-old. Then one Sunday night in August 2003, I was sitting in church, listening to the pastor, when beads of sweat formed on my forehead. My heart thumped like a bass drum, and I feared that a heart attack was imminent. "Lord, what should I do?" I prayed. Things got so scary that I thought about signaling for an usher to call 911, but I didn't want to create a scene in the middle of a church service.
I thought I was having high blood pressure problems since hypertension ran in the family. My symptoms calmed down a bit, so I toughed it out. I knew I should see a doctor, but I decided to wait a week or two for my annual physical. After my doctor poked and prodded around, he ordered tests on my blood and urine.
I'll never forget the phone call from the doctor's office informing me that I had type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes? That sounded serious. "Wait a minute," I said to the nurse. "I had my physical in the afternoon, so I'm not sure if I fasted for my blood work. I want to get this checked again."
A repeat visit confirmed the test results. "I'm going to write you a prescription," my doctor said, handing me a slip and sending me on my way.
My prescription was for thirty milligrams of Actos daily to treat type 2 diabetes. As the months passed, however, I can't say that I was feeling better or that the medication helped me regain my energy. My concerns were raised by newspaper stories that Actos could cause liver damage.
Then I heard Jordan Rubin speak about the Great Physician's prescription for good health, and his message inspired me to make huge lifestyle changes in what I ate and how I lived. I asked Donna if we could buy our groceries at the health food store and purchase some of the whole food nutritional supplements that Jordan recommended. I think she fell over in shock because she had been encouraging me for years to live a healthier lifestyle.
I began eating a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and the right type of dairy, eggs, and meats. The days of passing through the Wendy's drive-lane in a golf court were long gone. Energy returned to the point where I could mow my big lawn again and keep up with the kids. After a few weeks, I felt so good that I stopped taking my diabetes medication. Within a year, I had lost forty pounds and got down to my old high school playing weight.
When my annual physical came around in August 2004, I visited a new physician, but I did not disclose that I had been told a year earlier that I had diabetes. I wanted him to treat me with no preconceptions. So you can imagine my surprise when the tests results from the lab confirmed that my cholesterol was good, my blood pressure was normal, and everything else was fine, meaning I didn't have diabetes.
Wow! Jordan Rubin was right. He said that if I followed the Great Physician's prescription, there would be a good chance that I'd reverse the damage I'd done to my body, and that's exactly what happened.
The Latest Epidemic
Meeting people like Joey Hinson and hearing their stories is awesome, but my ears always perk up when someone says they have diabetes. You see, I had my own battle with diabetes back when I was a nineteen-year-old student at Florida State University a little more than a decade ago.
I chronicled my health odyssey in The Great Physician's Rx for Health and Wellness, where I described how my 185-pound body was attacked by Crohn's disease--a debilitating digestive disorder--along with a grab bag of other ailments: arthritis, chronic fatigue, hair loss, amebic dysentery, chronic candidiasis, prostate and bladder infections, as well as diabetes. Within a year, I wasted away to 104 pounds and feared an early death.
Because I was fighting battles on so many medical fronts, I wasn't your typical diabetes patient, but I've never forgotten how both of my lower legs turned purple from extremely poor circulation. Now that got my attention. Although my doctors never suggested that I was a candidate for amputation, the thought of losing a leg crossed my young mind. If my health degenerated to a point where amputation was necessary, I really thought I would be better off dying.
Fortunately, and with great gratitude to my Lord and Savior, my health gradually improved, and the circulation in my legs returned to normal. Ever since I got well, I've carried a healthy respect for how diabetes impacts people's lives, and that impact is expected to double worldwide in the next twenty-five years. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Britain are projecting a global rise in diabetes from 171 million in 2000 to 366 million in 2030. The greatest relative increases will occur in the Middle Eastern Crescent, sub-Saharan Africa, and India, matching a similar rise in obesity rates.
Here in the United States, the alarm has already been sounded regarding diabetes. According to the most recent government statistics, around 18 million Americans--or 6.3 percent of the population--have been diagnosed with diabetes, and researchers estimate that there may be almost as many undiagnosed diabetics. The disease displays a strong ethnic bias based on its prevalence, in terms of percentage, among Native Americans, African-Americans, and Hispanics, as well as the aged.
Diabetes kills more than 200,000 Americans every year, ranking it as the sixth-leading cause of death. Health authorities, however, believe that diabetes is underreported as a cause of death because many families and doctors, for one reason or another, choose not to enter the disease on the death certificate. A probable reason is that people often die of complications relating to diabetes--heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease--so that disease becomes recorded as the cause of death.
Thus, many people are unaware that they even have diabetes. Although the affliction trails cancer and heart disease by considerable margins in the cause-of-death department, medical practitioners are calling diabetes a runaway epidemic because an estimated 41 million Americans have pre-diabetes, according to government estimates. Pre-diabetes is the period when people at high risk for developing full-blown diabetes demonstrate signs of intermittent elevated blood sugar levels. While their bodies are still capable of processing glucose--the energy that fuels the body's cells--their blood sugar levels are spiking like an aggressive teen driver running up the RPMs on his tachometer.
The "redline" image is apropos, especially since the American Diabetes Association has come out with red plastic wristbands as a way of creating awareness for the disease, just as cyclist Lance Armstrong introduced the canary yellow "Live Strong" wristbands as a fundraiser for cancer research.
Background on Diabetes
Although millions of Americans and their families are impacted by diabetes, I would venture to say that most people have a vague awareness of what diabetes entails. By definition, diabetes is a chronic degenerative disease caused by the body's inability to either produce enough insulin or properly use insulin, which is essential for the proper metabolism of blood sugar, also known as glucose. For those of you who last heard about insulin back in high school biology class, insulin is a hormone the body uses to convert sugar, starches, and other foods into energy for the cells.
To help understand the role of insulin better, let me offer a short and simple description of how the body digests and absorbs food. The body's digestive process is considerably more complex than the following word picture, but this will give a general idea of how insulin is injected into the bloodstream.
When eating a meal, food travels from the mouth into the stomach before passing into the small intestines, much like the way food moves along various conveyor belts on "Unwrapped," the Food Network program that shows viewers how their favorite foods are manufactured. Just as the featured item on "Unwrapped" is glazed, salted, roasted, or sugared as it wends its way through the factory floor, the food in the digestive tract is sprayed with various hormones, chemicals, and digestive juices as well. When food reaches the small intestines, it's bombarded with pancreatic juice containing pancreatic or digestive enzymes, which breaks the carbohydrates in the food down to its simplest form, glucose, which converts to blood sugar. When blood sugar levels rise, insulin is released to lower the blood sugar levels back to the normal range. The more carbohydrates you eat that are converted into blood sugar, the more your body releases insulin to lower that blood sugar.
Insulin accomplishes several tasks worth mentioning. The introduction of insulin stimulates the body to make fats out of other nutrients--proteins and especially carbohydrates--through a process known as lipogenesis. Why does the body do this? Because your body never wants to be caught short of gas in the tank. By storing the energy contained in sugar--or glucose--in fat cells, the body can call upon these "reserves" following physical exertion.
Unfortunately, with the lack of exercise in our couch-potato world these days, those reserves rarely get called on. Result: insulin levels spring out of whack after fat cells hang around too long. When blood-sugar levels yo-yo for a long enough time, diabetes mellitus rears its ugly head in two forms: type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Doctors, however, are seeing increasing numbers of patients with "double diabetes"--symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1, known as an insulin-dependent diabetes, means that the body does not produce enough insulin. To make up for the insulin deficit, the body must be supplied with steady amounts of insulin through a combination of controlled diet and daily injections of insulin, either extracted from the pancreases of cows or pigs or produced in laboratories in a synthetic form. In the last thirty years, medical scientists have discovered a way of manufacturing human insulin in bacteria and yeast, thanks to advancements in recombinant-DNA technology. This means that diabetics do not have to rely on insulin harvested from cows or pigs, whose supplies are being pinched by the limited number of animals set aside for this purpose.
Injections must be delivered with a needle because swallowing insulin is ineffective, the reason being that digestive juices in the mouth destroy insulin (which is a protein) before it reaches the bloodstream. My heart goes out to type 1 diabetics since it has to be an incredibly painful and inconvenient to inject yourself in the thigh, arm, or abdomen every single day of your life. A new treatment protocol involves the use of an insulin pump, a small computerized device that delivers insulin into the body through a thin tube and needle inserted in the skin, usually somewhere around the beltline. I know several type 1 diabetics who are extremely thankful that their doctor switched them from injections to the pump, claiming that action has saved their lives.
Type 2 diabetes, a form of non insulin-dependent diabetes (although some type 2 diabetics get so bad that they often require insulin), is difficult to diagnose and more challenging to treat. With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin produced by the body. Since insulin regulates and maintains the body's circulation of sugar levels, the body's inability to metabolize blood sugar--for whatever reason--opens the door to a host of medical complications.
Insulin resistance by the body's cells may be caused by too much insulin production--a byproduct of a high-sugar, high-starch diet. Insulin resistance can be compared to building up a callous while working a hoe in the backyard: when too much insulin is produced, the cells build up a defense, causing large amounts of sugar to remain in the blood. Often, the sugar in the blood reacts with the proteins to form Advanced Glycation End Products, which hinder blood flow to the eyes, legs, and feet. Eating foods with antioxidants can stop their formation.
In addition to poor blood circulation, some of the common symptoms of type 2 diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, dry itchy skin, poor wound healing, fatigue, bad breath, and irritability. The symptoms may sound vague, but in combination, these give a clearer indication of the onset of the disease. When full-blown diabetes is diagnosed--and the disease begins to take hold--additional physical problems and side effects become more stark: kidney failure, eye problems possibly leading to blindness, tooth and gum infections, and circulation blockages that cause heart disease or heart attacks. Some diabetic patients discover they have neurological problems and poor circulation, which manifest as tingly feelings in the hands or feet.
Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, limb amputations, and heart disease. There's also a huge link between the rising rates of obesity in this country and the "epidemic" of type 2 diabetes. The fact that our government classifies two-thirds of Americans as overweight and 15 percent of children between the ages of six to nineteen as severely overweight does not bode well for the future of this country.
This is how serious type 2 diabetes is among the young: some demographers are worried that today's generation could be the first to live fewer years than today's life expectancy, which is 72.5 years for men and 78.9 years for women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Furthermore, researchers say that if present trends continue, one out of three children born after 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes, and those who develop type 2 diabetes before the age of fifteen will have a shortened life expectancy of approximately seventeen to twenty years. That's sobering news, especially to someone who became a father for the first time in 2004.
Diabetes is a serious disease that has no cure. The disease can be somewhat controlled, however, but that involves lifelong treatment and attention. For type 1 diabetics, this means taking daily insulin shots to maintain your blood sugar level within a normal or near-normal range. For type 2 diabetics, that means managing the disease through diet, exercise, and medication under the supervision of a physician.
Type 1 diabetics must monitor their blood sugar levels several times a day, incorporate thirty minutes of exercise into their daily activities, and spread their intake of carbohydrates throughout the day to prevent high blood sugar levels after meals. Insulin is the only medication used to treat diabetes directly, although some doctors prescribe medications like Cymbalta to treat depression or painful nerve damage in the hands or feet.
Type 2 medical treatments are more individualized. Doctors will focus on treatment plans that stabilize blood sugar levels, which revolve around eating the proper amount of carbohydrates each day. Since carbohydrates are the nutrients that most affect blood sugar, doctors will counsel their patients to "count carbs" so that they can maintain their blood sugar at a safe level. Registered dietitians are usually brought in to teach patients how to plan meals and count carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the current standard medical and dietetic recommendations are that diabetics substitute sugar and sugar-containing foods with artificial sweeteners and artificially sweetened products.
Doctors often recommend a low-fat, low-sodium diet with foods high in fiber to help balance blood sugar levels. Depending on their diagnosis, they may prescribe drugs that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin. Sulfa-containing compounds such as Glucotrol, Diabeta, Micronase, or Prandin squeeze more insulin out of the body's cells. Other drugs help the body become more insulin sensitive: Avandamet, Rosiglitazone, and Metformin.
The National Institute of Health points out that alternative therapies are neither widely taught in medical school nor widely practiced in hospitals. Popular alternative treatments include:
Some diabetes patients search out herbal medicine practitioners. David Hoffman, past president of the American Herbalists Guild, points out there are many plants that contribute to comprehensive management of type 2 diabetes. Some of the herbs and spices traditionally used in the treatment of diabetes include banaba, cinnamon, bilberry, goat's rue, fenugreek, bitter melon, garlic, mulberry leaves, olive leaves, and ginseng.
The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing suggests a three-week bean husk juice therapy by soaking five ounces of green or dry bean husks in a quart or so of cold water. After twelve hours, simmer everything until boiled down to three cups of creamy mass. Then you drink the liquid remedy in small sips throughout the day.
Where We Go from Here
From here on out, when I talk about diabetes, I will be referring to type 2 diabetes. My main reason is because over 90 percent of diabetics are type 2, and the rapid increase in this form of the disease is prompting the alerts of an "epidemic" on the horizon. In addition, type 1 diabetes is thought to largely be an immune system disorder, and some in the medical world believe it's an autoimmune disease caused by a latent virus. More importantly, there is no proven way to prevent type 1 diabetes, but considerable evidence suggests that type 2 diabetes is highly preventable through eating right, living an overall healthy lifestyle, and embarking on an exercise program.
I believe even more can be done to prevent type 2 diabetes, and in the next seven chapters, I will be sharing the Great Physician's Seven Keys to health and wellness, which will give you and your loved ones the best possible chance to prevent diabetes or help you overcome diabetes by augmenting the medical treatment you're receiving.
My approach to diabetes is based on seven keys established in my foundational book, The Great Physician's Rx for Health and Wellness. They are:
Each of these keys relate in some way to diabetes, as you will see. I believe each and every one of us has a God-given health potential that can be unlocked only with the right keys. I'm asking you to give the Bible's health plan a chance and incorporate these timeless principals into your life, allowing God to transform your health physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
No matter where you are in your health journey, I pray that God will meet you at your deepest point of need and deliver you from your health challenges.