Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Type 1 Diabetes - Avoiding Dairy Is Key To Prevention

Diabetes is a very serious and complex disease. It carries with it several other complications during its progression including increased risks of heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, blindness, neuropathy (nerve damage), serious skin infections (i.e. gangrene) leading to lower limb amputations, and even premature death [1]. Needless to say, it’s not something to take lightly.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, but type 1 diabetes accounts for 5%-10% of all cases worldwide [2]. Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed during childhood. Hence, the term juvenile-onset diabetes. It is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes because it requires lifelong insulin therapy. Its prevalence has been increasing worldwide, and it also affects many in the United States. It is believed to affect 1 in 300 children by the age of eighteen in America.

The diagnosis of type 1 diabetes typically increases in incidence from birth to early teen years, peaking at ages 10-14. However, it can also develop in adults, specifically for those in their late 30’s and early 40’s.

What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to function properly. Without enough insulin, the body is unable to utilize sugar (glucose) from the foods consumed in the diet to produce energy. Since glucose is our cells’ main source of fuel this creates a big problem.

The pancreas is the organ responsible for producing insulin. Cells inside the pancreas, known as pancreatic beta cells, are responsible for making insulin. In type 1 diabetes, approximately 80%-90% of the beta cells are destroyed leading to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and the diagnosis of diabetes [3].

Signs And Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

The classic signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, fatigue, abdominal pain, and weight loss [4,5].

Up to 30% of newly-diagnosed type 1 diabetic children will present with a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) [5]. This is a very serious condition, often requiring hospitalization.

DKA occurs when the body doesn’t have enough insulin to allow glucose into the cells to be used as energy. The body still needs fuel of some kind in order to continue functioning, so it turns to fat. Fat stores are broken down and utilized as energy. This leaves behind toxic metabolites known as ketones. Ketones accumulate in the blood, producing an acidic state in the body, and then eventually spill into the urine. Consequently, a person’s urinary ketone levels will be elevated, along with their blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels are typically over 200 mg/dl, and sometimes even up to 500-600 mg/dl, when a patient presents to the hospital with DKA. The result is one very sick individual.

Avoiding Dairy Is Key To Preventing Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when there is a genetic predisposition to the disease followed by an environmental trigger [6]. In genetically predisposed individuals, an environmental trigger will cause an autoimmune reaction to occur in the body, resulting in antibodies being formed against the beta cells in the pancreas. The body then attacks and destroys these beta cells leading to permanent and irreversible damage to the pancreas organ.

There’s nothing anyone can do about inheriting “bad genes”, which makes you genetically susceptible for type 1 diabetes. Unfortunately, you’re given the DNA—good, bad, or ugly—of your parents, grandparents, and the relatives coming before them whether you like it or not. However, there are things you and your children can do to reduce your odds of developing type 1 diabetes if you do have “bad genes”. The best thing you can do is to avoid known environmental triggers.

One of the most well known environmental triggers is exposure to cow’s milk as an infant [7]. Evidence has shown that the beta casein protein found in cow’s milk is responsible for generating a cell-mediated immune response in the human body that results in antibodies being produced against these proteins [8]. The cow’s milk protein resembles the look of the beta cells in the pancreas since they share a very close amino acid sequence [9]. This causes the body to mistakenly identify pancreatic beta cells for foreign cow’s milk protein, resulting in the body destroying its own pancreas. As mentioned before, this damage is permanent.

With the majority of beta cells being destroyed in the pancreas, the body is then unable to produce the insulin needed to maintain normal functioning. Exposure to cow’s milk during the first three months of life seems to be of greatest importance in producing this cascade of events, although later life exposure to dairy can also cause these same consequences in young children [10,11].

The evidence against cow’s milk protein in the development of type 1 diabetes was so great that in the mid-1990’s the American Academy of Pediatrics encouraged parents to delay or avoid exposure to cow’s milk in their young infant children [12].

If possible, breastfeeding should be your number one choice in supplying nutrition to your infant child. Breastfeeding shows a protective effect against type 1 diabetes in young children by avoiding the development of antibodies to cow’s milk protein [13]. The longer an infant is breastfed exclusively the greater the protection against type 1 diabetes [14].

Avoiding dairy and breastfeeding are not foolproof, however. Other environmental triggers have also been shown to be a factor in the development of type 1 diabetes, including exposure to viruses (i.e. enterovirus), toxic chemicals, and cytotoxins [3,15].

Respiratory infections in early childhood are another risk factor for the development of type 1 diabetes, particularly during the first year of life [16]. At-risk children with the greatest number of infections during the first 6-12 months of life had the greatest probability of developing type 1 diabetes compared to those with fewer respiratory infections.

In Conclusion

Type 1 diabetes, although rare compared to type 2 diabetes, should be taken seriously nonetheless. The complications from this disease are the same as type 2 diabetes, and it is not a reversible disease like type 2 diabetes. Patients suffer permanent damage to their pancreas forcing them to rely on lifelong insulin injections to function properly.

The best approach to defending yourself and your child against type 1 diabetes is to take preventative steps when possible. Avoiding dairy products, breastfeeding your infant for as long as you can, and keeping young children healthy by avoiding exposure to others with contagious respiratory infections are all steps you can take to ensure the best possible protection against this debilitating disease.

Should you find yourself or your child exhibiting the signs of type 1 diabetes it is of utmost importance to seek the professional guidance and care of a qualified physician. Making changes to your diet and lifestyle by adhering to a low-fat, plant-based eating style can be of great benefit to you, helping to reduce the overall amount of insulin needed and prevent future complications, but it cannot completely replace the conventional medical system once this disease develops [17-22]. This is one place we are lucky to have modern medicine at our side.

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by Dustin Rudolph, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacist

Check out Dustin Rudolph's book The Empty Medicine Cabinet to start your journey towards better health. This step-by-step guide leads you through many of today's common chronic diseases (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and more), giving you the facts on foods versus medications in treating these medical conditions. The book also contains an easy-to-follow guide on how to adopt a whole foods, plant-based diet as a part of an overall lifestyle change, producing the best possible health outcomes for you and your family. Hurry and get your copy today!

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