Not everyone is affected but if you are you will eventually get diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or severe systemic
infections that will make you miserable and kill you years before your time.
If you go to the doctor you will probably be misdiagnosed. Only a small percentage of doctors know about what is currently
coming to be known as "metabolic syndrome." Chances are your high blood pressure will be treated (with drugs that make the
impotence you're already experiencing from the syndrome even worse) but your moderately high resting blood glucose will be
declared a watch-list problem for the future.
Your doctor probably will not order a glucose tolerance test, which might reveal your hidden condition, because it costs
more than a resting glucose test. And if your doctor is one of the rare progressive ones who knows about the "syndrome" and
its ultimate effects, odds are he will put you on a diabetes drug like Metformin, or even insulin, that won't really fix the
problem -- even though a total and complete fix for the problem has been known for almost 100 years.
There is only one organ in your body that absolutely needs glucose, but that organ is your brain. Just as a lack of oxygen
will quickly cause irreversible damage, a lack of glucose in your bloodstream will quickly kill you. American doctors use
milligrams per deciliter, mg/dl, as the yardstick for blood glucose and in that unit a measurement of 80 is considered
healthy and normal. A measurement of 60 is likely to mean you are feeling weak and light-headed. A measurement of 40 is
grounds for an immediate trip to the hospital.
But the reactivity that makes glucose such a good fuel for those cells that want it also makes it corrosive. Your body has
defences that allow it to deal with moderate amounts of glucose sufficient to fulfill its energy needs, but it's possible
for your body to lose its ability to control the glucose level in your bloodstream. Once your glucose levels are measured
at 200 mg/dl you will be diagnosed with diabetes. At 400 mg/dl you will actually start to feel bad. At 800 mg/dl you are
in imminent danger of a hell of a lot of lethal complications.
The regulation of glucose in your blood is a bit complicated and strange. The glucose in your blood it isn't automatically
used by your body; the enzyme insulin is necessary to tell your cells that it's OK to take what's there. Insulin is
produced by your pancreas, normally in response to high blood sugar levels. And those high blood sugar levels generally
result because you've eaten something that contains sugars or other carbohydrates that can easily be broken down into
At night, when you haven't eaten for awhile, you generally run out of blood glucose because your nervous system does use it
on a constant basis. At this point your liver wakes up and starts making the stuff. Your liver and pancreas don't
cooperate very closely, and your liver tends to set a level that might be called "kind of a running average for the last few
days" regardless of whether such an average is healthy or not. This is why your doctor will order a "resting" blood glucose
test if you show early symptoms of diabetes; it's a simple, cheap test involving only one blood sample, that isn't affected
too much by what you're doing at the instant it's taken.
But your blood glucose level varies over the course of a day, according to what you eat and what you're doing. If you're
healthy, it will shoot up to 120 after you eat a meal full of sugars and fast-release carbs, and then it will settle back to
80 within an hour or so. If you're not healthy, it might spike to 200 or more, or it might settle at 160 and take hours to
return to normal.
If your resting glucose is over 100 you should be very wary, because levels over 140 are chronically toxic -- every minute
of your life that your glucose is over 140 you are being poisoned. Your nervous system, circulatory system, and pancreas
are particularly vulnerable. And the poisoning of your pancreas is the start of a very nasty positive feedback loop,
because it reduces your ability to control your blood sugar even more, causing more and longer spiking of levels.
Eventually your body can't keep up at all, and you'll finally be diagnosed as a diabetic.
2. How Do I Find Out if I Have a Problem?
There are three tests your doctor can order to investigate your blood sugar control situation. I've already talked about
the resting test, a simple test of your instantaneous blood glucose level in the morning before you've eaten anything. Odds
are your doctor won't get very worried about it unless it's over 110 mg/dl. And you can be very sick indeed and have it
come in under 100.
A much better test is the glucose tolerance test. This still requires you to report to the doctor in the morning before you
eat, and have a resting test done; but then you drink a standard shot of glucose, and at intervals of 30 minutes, 1 hour,
and 2 hours further blood tests are taken. This reveals how your body reacts to a sudden jolt of glucose. Very often it
reacts badly. My own body will let my glucose fly above 200 for an hour or so before yanking it back down below 100. Other
people will see it drift up to 160 or 170 and hang there for hours. There are two sets of pancreatic beta cells that react
to keep your blood sugar under control. One set acts quickly, based loosely according to the levels required by your last
few big meals, but is intended to slightly under-react. This "first phase" response is meant to keep your sugar level from
soaring over 120. The second set acts more slowly but brings your sugar level back to 80 over the next couple of hours.
In my case, the first phase response is inadequate, so that if I eat one candy bar my blood sugar soars over 200. But the
second phase is there, and within a couple of hours my levels will be more or less normal. For most people who have this
kind of problem it's the other way around; the first phase response might keep them to 160, but then it stays at 160 for
Another test which is usually prescribed for people who have been solidly diagnosed with diabetes is the A1c. This measures
the amount of glucose stuck to your hemoglobin. This tends to reflect the average level of your blood glucose over the life
of a red blood cell, or several months, and many doctors regard it as the gold standard. It's more expensive than a simple
resting glucose test, though. An A1c level of about 4% corresponds to 80 mg/dl, although most doctors will consider levels
as high as 8% "good" for a diabetic.
The problem is that A1c tests don't show after-meal spiking, which might be making your blood toxic to your most sensitive
organs for much of the day but not driving up the long-term average all that much.
My gold standard for blood sugar control would be multiple tolerance tests, carried out with various kinds of
foods. No doctor would ever prescribe this, but fortunately it's now possible to buy pretty reliable glucose meters over
the counter for under USD$100 and do it yourself. Your results
won't be as accurate as the lab your doctor would hire, but you don't need accuracy for a tolerance test; if your levels
ever go over 140 for any reason you have a serious problem. If the meter from Wal-Mart says 200 after you eat
a Snickers bar, as mine did, you don't need three decimal places to confirm it.
3. So What's the Big Deal?
You may or may not get any of the particular symptoms on that list (or a whole slew of others); odds are one of them will
kill you before you develop some of the others. But if your blood sugar is spiking over 140 after meals, even if you feel
relatively healthy today you will eventually get Type II diabetes. Once you're a full-on diabetic
it only gets more fun; you can have limbs amputated and go insane. Or you can screw up your insulin therapy and die of an
- Obesity that doesn't respond to diet or exercise
- Skin rashes
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Slow wound healing
- Neuropathy (loss of feeling or control in extremeties)
- Retinopathy (blindness)
- Kidney failure
- High triglicerides ("bad cholesterol")
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
It's very likely your doctor will confuse some of these symptoms with causes of your misery. WebMD.com still
cites "an unhealthy lifestyle that includes
eating too many high-calorie foods" as the first and most prominent causative factor for metabolic syndrome. This isn't
really so; your sugar levels can be spiking after meals even if you eat a reasonable number of calories, and if that's the
case you may gain weight even if you exercise all you can and eat like a bird. Exercise helps, because it can reduce
glucose tolerance. But by the time you even realize something is wrong you might not be able to exercise enough to
make a difference.
The fat that lines your arteries to lay the groundwork for that heart attack in your future also isn't the fat you eat;
triglicerides are the fat your body makes from the sugars and complex carbohydrates you eat. Normally your body
wouldn't line your arteries with this stored energy, but normally your blood glucose levels aren't over 140 either.
And while the link to cancer is less obvious, it's now known that most cancers rely heavily on glucose. Normal cells are
killed by their own mitochondria when they turn cancerous; cells that grow into tumors have malfunctioning mitochondria.
But the mitochondria are also responsible for burning glucose to power the cell's metabolism. Cancer cells must bypass
their malfunctioning mitochondria by burning the glucose anaerobically, a process that's only about five percent as
efficient as the normal combination of glucose with oxygen. So while it's not known at all whether high glucose levels
cause cells to turn renegade, it seems quite reasonable that they have an easier time survivinging and working their
mayhem when high glucose levels are available.
4. You, Insulin, and Certain Banned Performance Enhancers
Some people become diabetic because their pancreatic beta cells are destroyed by an automimmune reaction when they're young;
this means their cells would listen if the insulin was there but they can't make the stuff. This is Type I diabetes.
Sugar control problems that arise in adulthood usually involve insulin resistance. This means your pancreas is
capable of putting out a normal amount of insulin but your cells aren't listening, so it's having to produce more and more
to keep your blood sugar under control. Eventually your body will need so much insulin to function normally that your
pancreas just can't supply it. This is Type II diabetes.
If you're among the estimated one in three afflicted with "metabolic syndrome" you're most likely insulin resistant. That
means your body is pumping ever larger amounts of insulin into your bloodstream in order to try and keep your sugar levels
Insulin is an anabolic steroid. It's just as unhealthy to have lots of insulin running around in your bloodstream as
it is to be shooting up other anabolic steroids to build up your muscles.
The reason is that your body maintains a delicate balance between anabolic processes (which build up flesh out of simple
compounds) and catabolic processes (which break down tissue into its components). With all that extra anabolic activity
going on, some other anabolic activity might be curtailed -- such as your sex drive or wound healing. Or your body might
compensate by piling on some more catabolic activity to maintain the balance, generally building excess fat that makes you
overweight and lines your arteries.
5. The Epidemic
Even though it's not a communicable disease, diabetes and its associated effects are regarded as an
epidemic by most health organizations.
Yeah, that was my reaction too.
6. How I Diagnosed and Treated Myself
In November of 2005, not long after a big round weather phenomenon I've written way too much about, my mother was diagnosed
with Type II diabetes and I got a little lecture about how this was another thing I needed to watch for, like the heart
disease on my Dad's side of the family and the colon cancer on hers. Great.
I got to thinking about it and a lot of the things that had happened in my thirties, a generally miserable decade when my
body insisted on falling apart no matter what kind of diet or exercise I tried. As a New Year's resolution for 2006 I
bought a blood glucose meter and bood pressure meter.
A doctor would have been most alarmed at my blood pressure, 167/119. Ouch. The fasting glucose was a bit more tentative at
110 mg/dl. After a bit of Googling I decided to eat a Snickers bar and see what happened. What happened was it went up to
I knew that wasn't right.
Starting in January of 2006 I stopped eating anything that made my blood glucose go over 140. I'll get to what that
required shortly, but let me just say I didn't starve myself, I ate quite well, and didn't exercise in any new ways or do
anything else outside of my old routine.
By mid-February my blood pressure was down to 125/85, I had lost 40 pounds, and my resting blood sugar was 85. I haven't
bothered having my cholesterol checked but I'm confident thanks to thousands of anecdotal reporters before me that it's
probably gone from horrible to OK. I also have more energy and stamina than I've had since my late 20's, and have been kind
of scarce lately because I decided to devote that energy to the previously unthinkable project of building a house -- with
my own hands.
My mother had been promised that she would need insulin, but when she and Dad saw my weight loss and I explained to them
what I was doing, she took up my habits. Her doctor initially told her she was wasting her time with all those measurements
on different foods but then, later, was astonished at the improvement in her numbers. She is now weaning herself from the
diabetes medication he'd prescribed.
A coworker was diagnosed several years ago with hypertension, and he was also curious. I loaned him my glucose meter and
noted that his numbers were almost the same as mine were in January 2006. He's not as diligent as I am but has started
trying to eat more to the meter, and his doctor has been astonished at the improvement in his bloodwork too. It's now
obvious he was misdiagnosed and he is trying to wean himself from the blood pressure medication; unfortunately, that's
tricky. Trust me, it's better to never go on that stuff in the first place if you don't have to.
7. So what can I eat, you're asking?
Well, the news is bad in some ways. I found out I couldn't eat a lot of things, even in relatively small amounts -- not
just sugar, but pasta, bread, rice, potatoes and corn, or any of the huge number of things mostly made from those things.
On the other hand I'm not starving myself, and I can eat some fine things. I eat meat of all kinds, eggs, dairy products,
and green vegetables. A fine meal is a steak with sauteed mushrooms substituted for the baked potato every restaurant wants
to serve, or a hamburger with no bun (they usually put it on a bed of lettuce) and side salad instead of fries. Ranch and
Bleu Cheese dressings are safe for the salads.
I'm not limiting calories. If I'm hungry, I eat. I find I eat a lot less on this diet; when I've had enough, I'm FULL and
can't eat any more.
In the first few weeks it seemed really hard, but then it got easier. I'm so much healthier now, and I don't have the
cravings that seem to be triggered by the availability of those high-carbohydrate foods, and it's very easy for me to
imagine living like this for the rest of my life. I'll probably have to.
Everyone asks about fruit. I could probably eat fruit, in season and in reasonable quantity, if my metabolism wasn't
already broken. But one of my mentors, Dr. Lutz, calls fruit "vitamin enriched sugar water" and is kind of down on it.
Q1. Where do you get your vitamins?
One source is green leafy vegetables; I tend to eat a lot more of them now that I'm not eating so much other junk. But I don't think that alone is enough.
I think the real key is animal fat. If you're not eating carbohydrates, which I'm pretty much not, then you have to eat fat or you'll get a really bad nutritional deficiency. (If you're eating fat, your body will make the carbs it needs for your nervous system to function. It can't do that if you're just eating protein.) And nobody knows exactly how, but it's clear from numerous anecdotal experiences that people who are eating animal fat also don't get vitamin deficiencies, including scurvy.
Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson wasn't believed when he reported in the early 1900's that the Canadian Eskimos maintained their health eating nothing but meat for months at a time. In 1928 he volunteered to spend a year under hospital observation to prove his claim. His observers expected him to quickly acquire a range of deficiency diseases, but he actually left the hospital in better health than he entered it.
Q2. But isn't fat bad for you?
All of the studies that have ever purported to show that have shown it in conjunction with a high carbohydrate
intake. There have been hardly any formal studies of the kind of radical low-carb diet I am following.
The anecdotal evidence, though, from literally thousands of people, suggests that a low-carb high-fat diet is
healthier than a high-carb diet.
Q3. You're kidding, right?
I wish I was. But people like the Inuit who live almost entirely on meat don't get scurvy or diabetes -- until they're
introduced to a typical Western diet. That's a pattern all over the world when aboriginal populations are introduced to our
eating habits. And I can't help but notice that I've been doing this for 16 months now and I'm healthier than I've been
since 1990 or so.
People whose ancestors have been farming the longest have the fewest problems with diabetes and related complications. But
modern transportation has made it possible for previously isolated populations to mix, and now all those nasty recessive
traits evolution has been trying to eliminate for 10,000 years are coming back out. That's why it's an epidemic.
8. The Tinfoil Hat Story
It sounds ripped from the pages of a modern thriller. A new technology is created promising undreamed-of abundance. It
makes all kinds of new modalities possible, such that very soon after its introduction it can't ever be given up. But
there's a catch; it's booby-trapped. It makes you sick and kills you young, and it will do the same to your children and
Nuclear radiation? Chemical toxins?
Nope -- Farming.
The problem is that farming was a great thing for Homo Sapiens. Farming put us at the top of the food chain
and made it possible for us to have a high population and engage in specialized occupations, so that we might learn about
things like glucose metabolism and insulin. Farming is also great for your civilization, because with that vastly increased
population you can raise armies, feed armorers, and generally walk all over your non-farming neighbors.
But it wasn't such a great thing for us as individuals.
Those foods we farm don't exist in nature; we have selectively bred all of the foods we farm to make them much more fecund
than their natural ancestors. If we lived as hunter-gatherers we'd mostly eat meat, nuts, and berries unless we happened
upon some temporary high-carb bonanza such as a grove of ripe fruit trees. And in such a limited temporary circumstance,
the most sensible thing to do would be to gorge on all that storable energy before it rotted or some other animal got
there to store it instead of you.
So in that light, our reaction to high carb foods -- to eat too much of them even when our health is in jeapordy -- makes
sense; our ancestors never had a reason to regulate their intake of such foods, and the cravings we have inherited from them
reflect the desirability of such foods during periods of temporary bounty. Nature never prepared us to be confronted with a
limitless supply of this stuff.
Some of us have adapted to the new circumstance. Some of us, like myself, adapted only partially, and a bit of a trauma --
like an operation in our late 20's -- can make us vulnerable. And a lot of us just can't handle these foods at all.
9. Oh Yeah I Was on That Diet Once
Usually heard from waitresses -- closely followed by "and I lost 30 pounds, but then I went off of it and gained it all
I spent several months wondering if I would ever write about this, and then nearly a year wondering what I would
write about it that wouldn't sound just plain crazy. For the last 16 months I feel as if I have been aging in reverse; I am
healthier now at the age of 43 than I was when I was 33. I am still not doing any exercise or regulating my calorie intake
any more than I ever did; I just eat different stuff and watch the meter. I've gotten a few nasty surprises, things I
thought were OK that made the reading go up. It's surprising where you find sugar and starch, especially in fast foods.
I've mentioned what I was doing here a couple of times, and one commenter memorably said "I'd give up sex before I'd give up
complex carbohydrates!" A dramatic comparison to be sure, but how reasonable does that choice sound when I mention that you
might actually literally be faced with it?
10. Well why not just go on insulin? Technology wins!
Most people don't use reactive insulin therapy; they take a "basal" dose that doesn't respond to foods they eat. It's not
unusual at all for diabetics taking insulin to see glucose levels of 300 mg/dl after a meal. Their doctors don't think it's
a problem because their average as tested via A1c is relatively benign. But those spikes are progressing and worsening
their condition even though they're under "therapy." This is why most diabetics see their health continue to deteriorate
even though they are told by their doctors that their diabetes is "under control."
Sugar levels most doctors consider "good enough for a diabetic" aren't really all that good. It's possible to keep them to
normal levels, even if you are fully diabetic. Drugs alone cannot do it though. Drugs, including insulin, can
reduce your blood sugar levels but they can only normalize your levels if you control your diet too.
And insulin therapy is much more dangerous than all but the most advanced cases of diabetes itself. The problem with taking
insulin is that you are overriding all of your body's natural feedback mechanisms, and if you take too much and don't
eat enough carbohydrates to justify it, your sugar levels can drop to levels never seen in a healthy person, 40 mg/dl and
even lower. Too low and you'll lose consciousness.
The same thing is true of non-insulin diabetes drugs that work by triggering insulin release. And those others like
metformin that work in other ways are less dangerous, but are also even less capable of normalizing your insulin levels if
you're eating a high carbohydrate diet.
11. My Occasional Friend Carl
A long time ago (or so it seems) I mentioned a guy C who I'd occasionally see at the local Applebees when I'd go in and eat
at the bar. When last I mentioned him he was complaining about the invasion of Chalmatians into St. Tammany Parish. When
he saw what I was eating late that January he asked what I was up to and when I explained he enthusiastically started
talking about his own adventure. "Yeah, my sugar was 800 when I finally went to the doctor," he laughed. "Damn near
C encouraged me and congratulated me for catching it while I could still regulate it by diet. He'd been in the Marines his
entire adult life, running 7 miles a day. He retired when he was 40, and by the time he was 41 he was being checked into
the hospital with full-on diabetes and 800 mg/dl blood glucose. Exercise can keep it at bay, but if you stop exercising ...
well, then it stops keeping it at bay.
Sometime around August of 2006 I happened to be in the restaurant and realized I hadn't seen C in awhile. I asked the
bartender about him, and she turned about the color of bleached paper. "Carl died," L kinda choked. "He lived alone you
know, and he went into insulin shock and nobody was there to help him."
In those rare times when I'm tempted to say "screw the meter, I'm in the mood for a donut" I think of Carl.
If you have any suspicion at all that you might have metabolic syndrome or diabetes, please refer to Jenny:
What They Don't Tell You About Diabetes
She's no doctor, just a gal using her formidable researching skills to try and deal with her own diabetes. If what you read
on her page interests you in something more authoritative, get this book:
Life Without Bread
Dr. Wolfgang Lutz has treated literally thousands of patients with the low-carbohydrate diet. The book was originally
published (in German) in 1967 and translated into English and updated in 2000. It's extensively footnoted with references
to actual scientific articles for those who don't just want to take his word for it all.
I'd love to refer you to well-respected establishment resources like WebMD or the American Diabetes Association, but my
personal experience -- crass anecdote that it is -- suggests that their advice is not just a little wrong, but
disastrously wrong. And I'm not the only
I leave it as an exercise for the diligent reader to determine whether that's because I have hallucinated the improvement in
my health in the last 16 months, or our medical peoples is stupid, or maybe because nobody stands to make a pile of money
from advising you to order an omelette instead of pancakes for breakfast.