Diabetes – Treat the Disease, not the Symptoms

In 2015, the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. was diabetes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). As of 2017, type II diabetes was affecting more than 100 million people, and this number is only increasing. The good news about diabetes is that it is preventable and can be managed through diet and lifestyle changes.

What is it?

Type II diabetes is characterized by a loss of sensitivity to insulin, which is the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. As an individual becomes insulin resistant, the result is high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) which contributes to complications such as kidney, nerve, retinal, and vascular damage.


There is no single cause of diabetes. Although obesity was once blamed, it is now understood that diabetes can occur in the absence of obesity. Contributing factors to this chronic disease include eating a poor diet (sugars, sweetened drinks/sodas, juices, alcohol, grain-based carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta, cereal, and baked goods), fructose, and industrial seed oils), sedentary lifestyle, inadequate sleep, chronic stress, gut dysfunction, and environmental toxins. Of course, genetics and family history also play a role.

Conventional Medicine Approach

The common approach to diabetes is to treat it with medications which have serious side effects such as liver and kidney dysfunction, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, rashes, weight gain, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Often this treatment isn’t initiated until the patient already has full-blown type II diabetes. If diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar, the focus should be placed on lowering our sugar (carbohydrate) intake, not finding medications, such as insulin, that shovel it out of the bloodstream and into places it shouldn’t be (kidneys, eyes, heart, legs, etc.). This type of treatment addresses the symptom of the disease (excess sugar), but it does not treat the root cause.

Functional Medicine Approach

The functional medicine approach aims to prevent and treat diabetes through diet and lifestyle changes. Many studies have shown that lowering carbohydrate intake improves patients’ HbA1c (long-term blood sugar control), triglycerides, and cholesterol, while also lowering patients’ medication requirements (Huntriss et al., 2018). Although few health problems were observed in our ancestors whose diets were made up of anywhere from 8-70% calories from carbohydrates, the carbohydrates they were consuming were fresh, whole foods (starchy plants, nuts and seeds, and whole fruits and vegetables). Carbohydrates are not inherently bad, but we want to stick to carbohydrates that are high in fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, and avoid refined carbohydrates. Additionally, we want to eat carbohydrates that are right for us individually. If you’re interested in determining which carbohydrates your body tolerates best and which ones cause unhealthy blood sugar swings, follow the steps in Chris Kresser’s article Functional Medicine and Diabetes: How to Treat the Root Cause.

American adults are extremely sedentary, and this is a significant risk for type II diabetes. To prevent or manage diabetes, it is important to not only engage in regular exercise, but to limit sitting time/sedentary activity. Even 30-minutes of walking per day can reduce the risk of type II diabetes by approximately 50%. High-intensity interval training is another quick and effective way to improve blood sugar control. To decrease sitting time, try working at a standing or treadmill desk, walking or biking to work, take standing or walking breaks (at least two minutes every hour), stand up during meetings, or sit more actively by sitting on a yoga ball.

Although diabetes is on the rise and may even be a part of your family history, there is still hope. Be proactive and take control of your diet and lifestyle now, as they play a huge role in preventing chronic diseases. If you are diabetic, make sure you consult with your physician prior to implementing the above recommendations or changing your current medications. I hope you find the information in this article, as well as the references below, helpful.

About the Author:

Grace received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from Grove City College and her Master’s Degree in Exercise Science with a concentration in strength and conditioning from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has both designed and helped conduct research studies related to supplementation and performance, exercise and mood, and rest periods as they relate to gains in strength and power. Grace presented two of these research studies at the 2016 and 2017 Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter meetings of the American College of Sports Medicine and is a published co-author in the Journal of Exercise and Nutrition. As a graduate assistant at Indiana University of Pennsylvania she assisted in teaching exercise physiology lab, provided personal training to local volunteer firefighters, and performed fitness-based exercise testing for Pennsylvania Police Academy candidates. In her free time she enjoys hiking and spending time with her family.







Huntriss, R., Campbell, M., & Bedwell, C. (2018). The interpretation and effect of a low-carbohydrate diet in the management of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. European journal of clinical nutrition72(3), 311.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top