Would you like to hear a few mind-blowing statistics about diabetes? These numbers totally floored me when I first read them!
Fact 1: $1 in every $5 health care dollars is spent caring for people with diabetes.
Fact 2: Across America, 8.1 million people are believed to be living with undiagnosed diabetes.
Fact 3: One in four Americans over 65 years of age develops diabetes.
With so many people broadly affected by diabetes, it’s helpful to know how we can prevent it from happening to us… or somebody we love.
So today, we’re going to explore a totally new frontier of diabetes research:
Could an alkaline diet actually reverse diabetes?
But First Up… A Bit Of Background About Diabetes
You’ve probably heard that there are two types of diabetes. For the purposes of this article, we are referring to Type 2 diabetes only. This is the type that usually develops later in life and can often be managed with lifestyle changes.
In Type 2 diabetes, a couple of things in the body may not be working optimally. Firstly, the body may not be making enough of the hormone insulin, which is needed to move glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream and into our cells to provide energy.
Alternatively, in Type 2 diabetes the body may still be making enough insulin but this hormone isn’t working properly. We commonly refer to this as ‘insulin resistance’, which can lead to high blood sugar levels and eventually diabetes.
What Causes Diabetes?
Firstly, researchers acknowledge that there is a genetic component to diabetes. Some people develop diabetes due to their DNA, rather than any issues in their diet and lifestyle.
However, food, exercise habits and lifestyle can play a role in diabetes as well. Most of us have heard the mainstream recommendations to be a healthy weight, move your body daily and avoid sugary, processed foods.
But what if there were something else at play here. Could an acidic diet also have a role in causing diabetes?
What Is An ‘Alkaline Diet’?
Natural wellness experts have been discussing the benefits of alkalizing foods for a long time. More recently, the popularity of alkaline diets has been spread by celebrities who espouse its health benefits.
The theory behind the diet is that certain foods cause our blood pH to drop and become more acidic. This is said to lead to all kinds of illnesses. On the other hand, eating more foods that alkalize our blood is claimed to heal and prevent disease.
Despite its popularity with many celebrities, the acid/alkaline theory has traditionally been dismissed by mainstream medicine. That is, perhaps, until now.
Several large-scale studies have revealed a strong and compelling link between an alkaline diet and improved insulin resistance. This benefit has also been found to lower the incidence of developing diabetes.
How Could This Be?
In order to understand why alkalizing foods may help with diabetes, we need to firstly understand how our bodies process acid and alkaline foods:
When we digest food, our bodies release a bunch of mineral cations and chemicals (such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium) that are normal by-products of metabolism. However, these by-products tend to be different between ‘acid’ and ‘alkaline’ foods and affect pH differently:
- Generate more sulphate during metabolism
- Increases dietary acid load
- Tend to be higher in potassium/lower in protein
- The metabolic by-products of eating these foods buffers hydrogen ions and reduces acidity
- Decreases dietary acid load
It’s very, very important to note here that the body does an EXCELLENT job of maintaining our pH levels through the kidneys and respiratory system. In healthy people, our blood pH is strictly maintained between 7.35 to 7.45. If we err outside of this range we become extremely sick (as in - hospitalized, critical-care level sick!)
So it’s not technically correct to say that acid foods, in healthy people, make us ‘acidic’. However, a chronically high dietary acid load may keep our body on the lower (ie more acidic) end of the ‘normal’ pH range. And researchers think that this is what may be increasing our diabetes risk.
A drop - even within ‘healthy’ range - of blood pH has been shown to decrease insulin sensitivity. On the other hand, alkalizing the blood has been shown to improve insulin resistance and the ability of our cells to metabolize glucose.
At this stage, a precise explanation of why this occurs remains unanswered. One popular theory is that a very mild form of acidosis may impair the ability of insulin to bind with cells. Another theory is that high dietary acid loads may trigger our liver to make and release more glucose - something which is only meant to happen when our body needs extra energy in between meals, and during sleep or exercise.
What Does This Research Mean If I Do Have Diabetes?
Essentially, while the exact mechanism of action is unknown, the fact remains that many large-scale studies show a strong association between more alkaline patterns of eating and better blood glucose and insulin control.
Even if it weren’t for this evidence, most of the alkaline foods are plant-based products that many of us should be eating more of anyway. With few Americans meeting their daily fruit and vegetable requirements, eating more of these alkalizing plants offers far wider benefits than the potential to prevent diabetes.
In the same vein, most ‘acidic foods’ - namely red and processed meats, hard cheese, sugar, processed/fried foods and alcohol - should be eaten in moderation (or not at all) for other health reasons besides a lowered diabetes risk.
So even if you do, or don’t have diabetes, love up your alkalizing fruits and veggies and they will love you back! It’s just nice to know that science is telling us why, too.