By Wayne Fulong
In our first interview with Dr Jia Xu of Physicians for Responsible Medicine, he talked about health as the body ‘self-healing’. He explained that to ensure that we can self-heal we need to remove self hurting habits such as unhealthy eating.
This week we will discuss type 2 diabetes.
GoVeg: Over the past thirty years the incidence of type 2 diabetes in China has gone from 1% of the population to almost 12%. At the same time the Chinese diet has changed greatly. Are diet and type 2 diabetes related?
Dr. Xu: Absolutely. One study in this field was the Seventh Day Adventist Study in the USA that examined, among other things, the incidence of type 2 diabetes among people following different diets.
This study found the diabetes rates among three groups- meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans- showed clear differences.
GoVeg: What were those differences?
Dr. Xu: The meat eaters had the highest rate of type 2 diabetes, indicating that the consumption of meat is related to the incidence of the disease. This finding is borne out in the trends in China. The rise in type 2 diabetes in China in the past 30 years has been accompanied by a similar rise in the amount of meat consumed.
Interestingly the vegetarians, while having lower rates of diabetes than the meat eaters, had significantly higher rates than the vegans who had the lowest rate of all. This would indicate that eggs and dairy as well as meat is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
GoVeg: So the trend in China and the Seventh Day Adventist study both show a marked correlation between increased consumption of animal products and type 2 diabetes. Yet, doctors often warn that carbohydrates are the culprit when it comes to diabetes. Do carbs play a role?
Dr. Xu: The evidence would suggest differently. Let us look at two carbs that are commonly warned against- rice and fruit. As we know, the rate of type 2 diabetes in China is now twelve times higher than what it was thirty years ago. Yet figures show that the rate of consumption of rice and fruit has not changed. If carbs are the problem the rate of type 2 diabetes would not have grown. When we look at the consumption of meat and dairy in China over those thirty years we see a huge increase, of a similar magnitude to the rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes.
GoVeg: What might explain the correlation between the consumption of animal products and type 2 diabetes?
Dr. Xu: There is strong evidence that fat, especially saturated fat, is an important factor. We know for example that the more fat there is in someone’s muscles, the higher their risk is of getting type 2 diabetes. We also know that surgically removing fat absorbing intestinal segments restores insulin sensitivity in diabetes patients. This means by the way that vegans can contract diabetes, but they would have to be eating a high fat diet, with lots of nuts and seeds and fried food. The rate of diabetes among vegans is around 2% (compared with possibly 14% among the general population of the USA and 12% in China). Where follow up has been done those few vegans with type 2 diabetes have been found to be eating a high fat diet.
Fat in our bodies in our digestive system also affects our gut bacteria and their ability to regulate the metabolism of fats and amino acids in our body, as well as insulin and blood sugar. Put simply, fat in our system limits the body’s ability to self heal in relation to type 2 diabetes.
GoVeg: So we should avoid animal products if we want to avoid developing type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Xu: Absolutely. The evidence is overwhelming that following a low fat vegan diet is the surest way to avoid developing type 2 diabetes.
GoVeg: What about someone who already has type 2 diabetes? Can a low fat vegan diet help them more than a doctor?
Dr. Xu: If you are under medical treatment for diabetes, you should follow the medication. Medications such as metformine are very effective in reducing high blood sugar by suppressing liver glucose production. Type 2 diabetes can be life threatening and the medication can save your life. Follow your doctor.
However, as I said last week, this is not healing. It is stopping the symptom and that is important. The symptom is the reduced ability of our cells to take in glucose. But metformine does not repair this problem. Only diet can do that.
Dr. Xu:By taking saturated fats out of the diet, we take them out of our body and our gut bacteria can begin to work more efficiently. If someone is on metformine they should continue to take it but also move to a low fat vegan diet. But since both metformin and the vegan diet lower blood sugar, one runs the risk of hypoglycemia. So during the dietary transition, patients should monitor their glucose level closely, and in the event there is any indication of hypoglycemia, they should eat a piece of fruit right away to avoid the danger of blood sugar falling too low. When hypoglycemic events happen more frequently, they would know that the diet is working, and may proceed to reduce medicine under the guidance of a physician. Eventually, in consultation with their doctor, they may be able to come off their medication.
GoVeg: So while the medicine is saving our life by stopping the symptoms, we can begin to heal the body through a low fat vegan diet.
Dr. Xu: Exactly.
Dr Xu, who has a PHD in Physiology, has been working for PCRM since 2010, firstly in Clinical Studies, now on the Kickstart China Program (21 Day Vegan Kickstart). He travels widely in China to educate people on the importance of a low fat plant based diet.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was founded by Dr Neal Barnard in the USA. After he graduated as a medical doctor in the 1980s, Neal Barnard’s work acquainted him with things that shocked and worried him- the use of dogs in medical experimentation was one. Another was the fact that many other doctors he met smoked and ate meat even though they knew both were unhealthy. It seemed to him that the medical industry needed more compassion and also needed to be more thoughtful about the causes of ill-health, rather than just treating the symptoms.
Dr Barnard started PFRM to practice medicine with compassion. It had two aims:
1. To support plant based eating with evidence based research
2. To fight against the use of animals in experiments in medicine and other fields.