An Interview with Mark Hyman, MD
The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now, by Mark Hyman, MD, is a bestselling book that tackles a wide range of the most pressing health issues Americans face today, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and cancer. Dr. Hyman’s unique approach to eliminating these illnesses is focused on the regulation of insulin levels through nutrition, balancing hormones, reducing inflammation, optimizing digestion, promoting detoxification, providing high quality supplementation, and implementing stress reduction techniques. The book is getting praise from some of the finest minds in medicine, including Dr. Mehmet Oz of The Dr. Oz Show, who writes the following in an endorsement for the book:
“Dr. Hyman has done it again with a lucid description of the causes of the diabesity epidemic and a powerful treatment program. The Blood Sugar Solution is a must-read for anyone anywhere on the spectrum between mild insulin resistance and full-blown type II diabetes—a groundbreaking, science-based, easy-to-follow prescription. Start your journey to healing now.”
The following is an exclusive interview with Dr. Hyman for Life Extension®.
LE: You dedicate your most recent book with the following statement: “For the first generation of children in history that will live sicker and die younger than their parents. For their sakes and ours may we all work together to take back our health.” How dire are the public health circumstances from a numbers perspective?
MH: The prevalence of type II diabetes in America has tripled since the 1980s. There are now 27 million Americans with diabetes and 67 million with pre-diabetes. Within eight years one in two Americans will either have pre-diabetes or type II diabetes. The biggest tragedy is the global spread of childhood obesity and “adult” onset or type II diabetes in little children. From 1983 to 2008, the number of people in the world with diabetes increased sevenfold, from 35 to 240 million. In just three years, from 2008 to 2011, we added another 110 million diabetics to our global population.
LE: In short, what is “diabesity”?
MH: Diabesity is a comprehensive term to describe the continuum from optimal blood sugar balance toward insulin resistance and full-blown diabetes.It is one of the leading causes of heart disease, dementia, cancer, and premature death in the world and is almost entirely caused by environmental and lifestyle factors.
LE: How is lack of physician knowledge on the topic of diabetes hindering the efforts to stop this epidemic?
MH: As physicians, we are trained to offer medication or surgery to solve diabetes (and disease in general), when the real causes include poor quality diet, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, allergens, microbes, digestive imbalances, toxins, cellular energy problems, and stress. We think that treating the risk factors, such as high blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, with medications will help. But we don’t learn how to identify and treat the real causes of the disease. In truth, diabetes and elevated blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol are simply symptoms that result from problems with diet, lifestyle, and environmental toxins interacting with our unique genetic susceptibilities.
LE: You mention that insulin resistance is the real cause of diabesity. How so?
MH: Contrary to what most people think, type II diabetes and diabesity are diseases of too much, not too little, insulin. Insulin is the real driver of problems with diabesity. When your diet is full of empty calories and refined carbohydrates, your cells become resistant or numb to the effects of insulin. A higher insulin level is the first sign of a problem.
LE: And you say that few doctors order tests to find out the proper levels.
MH: Unfortunately, most doctors never test this. The higher your insulin levels are, the worse your insulin resistance. As the problem worsens, your body starts to lose muscle, gain fat, become inflamed, and you rapidly age and deteriorate.
LE: How else can insulin be deadly to our bodies?
MH: Too much insulin, the fat storage hormone, also drives more inflammation and oxidative stress, and produces a myriad of downstream effects including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low HDL, high triglycerides, poor sex drive, infertility, thickening of the blood, and increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and depression.
LE: In your book, you tackle several myths about obesity and diabetes, one being that they are genetic conditions inherited through genes. Is this true?
MH: Your genes provide the instruction book for all the proteins in your body, which control your physiology and biology. You may have a genetic predisposition to diabetes or obesity, but you are not predestined. Every moment, you have the power to transform your gene expression and reverse disease by changing the messages and instructions you send to your DNA. You can “turn off” the genes your grandmother “turned on” generations ago.
LE: How is the initial use of insulin for treatment of diabetes a “slippery slope” as you call it?
MH: Increased insulin dosage often leads to increased weight gain, higher blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol. Blood sugar improves, but overall risk of heart disease does not. That is why insulin should be the last resort.
LE: Explain the concept of the “toxic triad” that profits off the sickness of Americans. This is a powerful and sad truth in our society.
MH: One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry. The toxic triad of Big Farming, Big Food, and Big Pharma profits from a nation of sick and fat citizens. The government essentially stands in line next to you in fast-food chains helping you buy cheeseburgers, fries, and cola. Our nationwide food stamp program pays for $4 billion in soft drinks for the poor every day. That is about 29 million servings a day!
LE: And then we go to our doctors and they may tell us that we have normal blood sugar levels, but we still might have pre-diabetes for other reasons.
MH: Most doctors would guarantee 100% that you don’t have pre-diabetes if you have normal blood sugar (under 100 mg/dL) or a normal glucose tolerance test (when your blood sugar is measured 2 hours after a sugary drink). Unfortunately, they’d be 100% wrong. Many of my patients have perfectly normal blood sugars but sky high insulin levels and every other metabolic breakdown that goes with pre-diabetes.
LE: In addition to the metabolic breakdown, chronic stress can play a crucial role in diabetes development as well.
MH: Chronic stress increases the production of cortisol, the main stress hormone. Chronically elevated cortisol causes increased blood sugar, elevated cholesterol levels, depression, and even dementia, and promotes the accumulation of belly fat that we so commonly see in patients with insulin resistance or diabetes.
LE: You offer several stress reducing techniques in your book that people can learn about, but you also talk about how important reducing inflammation is.
MH: Anything that causes inflammation, will, in turn, cause insulin resistance. And anything that causes insulin resistance will cause inflammation. This dangerous spiral is at the root of so many of our twenty-first century maladies. The inflammation that drives obesity and chronic disease is invisible and doesn’t hurt. It is a hidden, smoldering fire created by your immune system as it tries to fight off bad food, stress, toxins, food allergens, an overgrowth of bad bugs in your gut, and even low-grade infections.
LE: Once a person has a diagnosis, lifestyle and diet changes are a must. In addition, you recommend several nutritional supplement strategies to implement as well. Why is that?
MH: Nutritional supplements are an essential and effective part of diabesity treatment. Mild diabesity requires moderate nutritional support; more advanced cases, including diabetes, require intensive nutrition therapy. Large-scale deficiencies of nutrients in our population, including omega-3 fats, vitamin D, folate, zinc, and magnesium, have been well documented. It may seem like a paradox, but obesity and malnutrition often go hand in hand.
LE: What supplements do you recommend?
MH: Everyone needs a good, high-quality, high-potency, complete multivitamin, fish oil, and vitamin D. I also recommend probiotics because modern life, diet, as well as antibiotics and other drugs damage our gut ecosystem, which is important to keeping us healthy and thin.
LE: How do herbs like green tea and cinnamon help in the fight against diabetes?
MH: Cinnamon and catechins from green tea are helpful in controlling blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity. Green tea can even increase fat burning and metabolism.
LE: While you are on the cutting edge of supplement usage, far too many doctors still reach for a prescription drug first for their patients. What are your thoughts on the use of medication for controlling/fighting diabesity?
MH: One of the most important studies in medicine, the Diabetes Prevention Program, found that medication did not work nearly as well as lifestyle changes, and this effect lasted even ten years after the study. The only medication that I sometimes find helpful is metformin. It is well tolerated, has been around a long time, and has been well studied. Most of the other medications cause serious complications or make things worse by boosting insulin levels and increasing the risk of death and heart attacks.
LE: From Big Pharma to Big Agriculture to general physician apathy, it seems that it is becoming increasingly important for people to take responsibility for their own health, rather than to listen to what the government or large corporations tell them. You touch upon this in your ‘take back our health’ movement.
MH: Our food choices are influenced by government subsidies for agricultural mass production of poor-quality fats and sugars. The government food pyramid reflects industry interests, not science, although the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report and the new “MyPlate” initiative are a step in the right direction.
LE: You made several suggestions during the health care debate that were not implemented due to politics. What were they?
MH: During the health reform process, Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute; Dr. Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer of the Cleveland Clinic; and I helped Senators Harkin, Wyden, and Cornyn introduce the Take Back Your Health Act of 2009, designed to reimburse patients with heart disease, diabetes, and prediabetes for intensive lifestyle treatment. Net savings in direct health care costs were estimated at $930 billion over 10 years. The bill was left on the cutting room floor of the senate in last-minute horse trading. Afterward, in a two-hour meeting with Senator Harkin, I implored that our only goal was to have policy reflect science. He paused for a moment and remarked, “That would make too much sense.”
LE: That is infuriating. What are some policies you’d like to see implemented to help us have a healthier nation?
MH: In no particular order, here is a sampling of what I mention in my book: subsidizing the production of fruits and vegetables, incentivizing supermarkets to open in poor communities, taxing sugar, fix perverse financial incentives in health care reimbursement, and end the irresponsible relationships between medicine and industry. There are many more.
Mark Hyman, MD, was co-medical director of Canyon Ranch for ten years and is now the chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and founder and medical director of the UltraWellness Center. He is the New York Times bestselling author of UltraMetabolism, The UltraMind Solution, and The UltraSimple Diet. For more information on Dr. Mark Hyman visit www.drhyman.com.
To order The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now, call 1-800-544-4440.
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