Fighting Type 2 Diabetes Without Drugs
One of the worst and most obvious mistakes being made in conventional medicine today is the aggressive treatment of type 2 diabetes with oral drugs.
Why? In recent years, study after study validates what I’ve seen in my 40 years of medical practice—oral medications for type 2 diabetes actually do more harm than good. While raising insulin levels and lowering blood sugar, they can have adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and, in some cases, increase the risk of heart attack and death.
Four years ago, researchers heading a large, government-funded trial made a sobering announcement. The study in question, “Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes” (ACCORD), was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of various medication regimens in reducing heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease in patients with type 2 diabetes. One arm of the study tested the widely held assumption that more aggressive lowering of blood sugar would provide greater protection against heart disease.
Instead, ACCORD found just the opposite. Study participants on the most intensive drug regimens intended to reduce blood sugar had a much higher cardiovascular death rate. “Intensive blood sugar-lowering treatment” proved to be so harmful that the researchers halted this arm of the study 18 months early to prevent this aggressive drug use from killing even more people.
Conventional medical experts were reportedly “shocked,” “stunned,” and “startled” by this unexpected finding. But those of us who practice alternative, complementary, or integrative medicine have known about the adverse effects of diabetes drugs since 1969, when results of a similar study called the “University Group Diabetes Program” were made public. The goal of this placebo-controlled study of patients with type 2 diabetes was to see if either of two oral diabetes drugs lowered the incidence of heart attacks and other cardiovascular complications.
Incredibly, just like ACCORD, the study had to be stopped two years early because participants who took the drugs had a 250 to 300 percent higher death rate than those taking the placebo.
The Main Culprits
One of the two drugs used in the older study, DBI (phenformin), was shown to be so deadly that it was taken off the market. Yet this drug’s close cousin, metformin (Glucophage), which has a near-identical mechanism of action, is the most popular diabetes medication in the country and was the most frequently used drug in the ACCORD study.
The other drug used in the 1969 study, Orinase (tolbutamide), was ultimately tattooed with a black-box warning stating that it dramatically increased the worst complication of diabetes: death from heart attack. Orinase belongs to a class of drugs known as sulfonylureas, which includes dozens of popular medications such as gliclazide, glimepiride, glipizide, and glyburide. The same black-box warning has appeared on all sulfonylureas since 1984, long before the ACCORD trial began.
Another class of diabetes drugs, and the second-most widely used type of medication by ACCORD participants, was thiazolidinediones. The most notorious is Avandia, which increases the risk of heart attack by 40 percent, heart failure by 60 percent, and death by more than 30 percent.
In 1978, nine years after the University Group Diabetes Program study illuminated the lethality of diabetes drugs and 30 years before the ACCORD study reiterated it, Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader, issued a warning: “Antidiabetic pills are dangerous to your health. Are you taking [oral diabetes drugs]? These pills could cost you your life… You must do three things: Stop taking anti-diabetic pills as soon as you can; go on a diet and lose weight; stop seeing your present doctor unless he or she genuinely tries to help you lose weight and agrees to switch you to insulin if you still have diabetic symptoms at or below your ideal body weight. These steps could mean the difference between life and death.”
I’ve heeded this advice for more than three decades. The majority of patients we see at our clinic with type 2 diabetes are taking at least one oral medication. We stop these drugs on sight. If they’re on insulin and they’re overweight, we stop the insulin as well. Even our patients with type 1 diabetes often reduce their insulin requirements on our program.
As you might imagine, this is a new concept. Patients are conditioned to trust their doctors, who have convinced them of the absolute necessity of taking drugs to lower blood sugar. However, once they hear the truth about diabetes drugs, most of our patients opt to stop their medications and adopt a much healthier treatment approach targeted at lowering blood sugar and reducing risk of heart disease.
And what about the other complications of diabetes?
Diabetes is the number one cause of blindness, amputation, kidney failure, and painful and debilitating peripheral neuropathy. In an article in Business Week, Norton Hadler, MD, of the University of North Carolina, said that no oral diabetes drug “has ever been shown to do anything really good for any patient. No leg, eye, kidney, heart, or brain has ever been spared.”
In my opinion, you’d be better off with no program at all than with these drugs. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 is not inherently fatal. It just means you’re walking around with an above-average level of blood sugar. Taking medication that lowers your blood sugar may make you think you’re doing better, but these pills clearly make you worse.
If not drugs, then what?
Here’s the four-step treatment program we recommend at the Whitaker Wellness Institute for our patients with type 2 diabetes:
1. Weight Loss: Losing weight is the best therapy for type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet for weight loss. It requires diet changes, an exercise program, and determination.
2. Diet: The most therapeutic diet for diabetes is a low-glycemic, Mediterranean-style menu with lots of vegetables and lean protein, such as fish and poultry; modest amounts of fruit (one serving per day); and healthy fats like olive oil. Stay away from sugar and starches—pasta, cereals, and other grain-based foods drive up blood sugar and increase appetite.
3. Exercise: Take a brisk ten-minute walk after meals and several sessions of resistance exercise weekly. Walking and other forms of aerobic exercise lower blood sugar and burn calories, while resistance exercise such as weightlifting builds muscle and improves long-term insulin sensitivity.
4. Nutritional Supplements: To guard against complications of the blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys, take a potent, antioxidant-rich daily multivitamin to replace the nutrients that are inevitably lost as a result of the diabetic condition. To lower blood sugar, take vanadyl sulfate 100 mg, alpha lipoic acid 200 mg, chromium 200 mcg, cinnamon 500–1,000 mg, Gymnema sylvestre 400 mg, and berberine 1,500 mg daily. They may be taken individually or in combination formulas.
What do the patients think about the natural approach to type 2 diabetes treatment?
“I followed the advice of my conventional physicians for type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and arrhythmia,” said one patient. “And all I had to show for it was more drugs. After just three weeks at the clinic, I was able to eliminate or reduce most of my drugs, and I’ve shown improvements in symptoms of all these chronic diseases.”
“My heart function and circulation in my legs improved after the treatment,” said another patient. “The ulcer on my right heel is almost completely healed, my legs are no longer swollen, and I can walk further than ever. My eye has improved, and I feel much better overall.”
Talk to your physician about alternative options to oral diabetes drugs. If your doctor isn’t willing to work with you, find one who will by visiting acamnet.org. The Whitaker Wellness Institute is listed along with others that believe type 2 diabetes patients should not have to resort to harmful drugs when safe, natural, alternative treatments are readily available.
Philosopher George Santayana said more than a century ago, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Well, modern medicine has a terrible habit of forgetting—or ignoring—the past. And patients are condemned to pay for this folly.
Julian Whitaker, MD, is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Emory University School of Medicine. A member of the American Medical Association, he is a popular speaker, lecturer, and author of 13 books and a widely read monthly newsletter, “Health & Healing.” In 1979, Dr. Whitaker established the Whitaker Wellness Institute. More information can be found at whitakerwellness.com.