Rajiv was 42 and in shock. He had just been told by his local hospital that he had developed type 2 diabetes. It had not come completely out of the blue; his blood sugars had been in the “prediabetic” warning range for a couple of years.
Now the hospital had offered him the drug metformin to lower his blood sugar levels. He had tried the drug, and it had lowered his blood sugar, but he didn’t feel good on it. He became nauseated and had gut ache and a strange taste in his mouth.
Rajiv was keen to try a more natural approach, but his lifestyle was anything but natural. He worked internationally as a management consultant, so he was constantly traveling, staying in hotels, and eating meals prepared by others.
I asked him to keep two one-week food diaries, one at home and one while away working. The at-home diary showed that he ate regular meals and not too much sweet stuff, but it accounted for only about one week in four. The “away” food diary, which Rajiv had recorded with meticulous precision, was full of both sweet and savory junk-food snacks, grabbed on the run, often in airports, at all hours of the day, between work commitments.
Even savory processed foods usually contain a lot of sugar. Both food diaries showed two major, connected problems. He was drinking masses of milk, about 3 cups (0.86 L) a day, and avoiding eggs, fish and meat—the latter a religious tradition and so non-negotiable.
Here was my dilemma: to get Rajiv’s blood sugar levels down, he needed to cut out not only sugar but also all refined carbohydrates (white rice, white bread, white pasta, etc.) because it breaks down rapidly into sugar in the gut, causing a rapid sugar level rise in the blood. He even needed to reduce whole carbohydrates, such as brown rice and root vegetables, to quite low levels for the same reason.
His main food sources needed to be protein and good fats instead, which ideally would mean animal foods. But the only animal food Rajiv was consuming, milk, was problematic because it’s full of lactose, a sugar composed of two smaller sugar molecules, galactose and glucose—emphatically not what a diabetic needs.
Rajiv agreed to cut out the milk and replace it with organic cheese, yogurt, cream and ghee (clarified butter). All of these are very low in sugar and full of good fats (ghee, cream and cheese) and protein (cheese and yogurt). He also agreed to eat much more vegan protein—pulses like chickpeas, beans and lentils, plus nuts and seeds.
The pulses are a mixed blessing because they contain as much carbohydrate as protein, but it’s at least whole carbohydrate. They’re also full of fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar (from the digestive breakdown of carbohydrate) into the bloodstream. Nuts and seeds are mostly protein, plus fiber and healthy fats.
The problem was that all these changes could be made only when Rajiv was at home. For the 75 percent of the time he was traveling for work, his diet remained almost as appalling as before.
Unsurprisingly, as Rajiv was a frequent flyer, his level of the toxic metal nickel was excessive. Nickel is one of the toxins involved in aerotoxic syndrome, a set of neurological, respiratory and other symptoms resulting from breathing in chemicals given off by burning jet fuel. It interferes with glucose metabolism1 and pushes out vital minerals like zinc that are necessary for insulin production.
I prescribed supplements of the missing minerals, plus vitamin C and methionine, an amino acid, both of which help to remove the nickel, but he kept “retoxing” himself with the frequent flying. I also prescribed alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant that helps many diabetics and is particularly useful for preventing the complication of diabetic neuropathy (damage to nerves from high blood sugar).2 The B vitamins I added to his supplement list help regulate blood sugar metabolism.
For a year, the basic treatments outlined above held Rajiv’s blood sugar levels where they were, in the low diabetic range, while traveling (he tested himself all the time) and even lowered them back to the prediabetic range when he was at home.
But when the levels he was recording while traveling began to rise again, he got alarmed and scheduled an appointment with me, this time with his wife along too.
I didn’t raise the possibility of his eating some eggs, fish or meat because of his religious beliefs even though I knew it would have helped immensely, but I did raise another taboo subject: downsizing. Rajiv’s diabetes was only going to get worse if he kept flying round the world, endlessly jet-lagged and unable to control his meals.
Worsening diabetes means damage to the eyes, heart, blood vessels and kidneys, plus skin infections and even premature death. I asked if there was any way he could reverse his working pattern and be at home 75 percent of the time and away only 25 percent, using online platforms like Zoom for meetings.
As it turned out, Rajiv’s wife had been asking him to do this for some years. It would mean a drop in income, she said, but it was possible. To my surprise and relief, he agreed almost at once.
They exchanged their large house for a smaller one, and Rajiv cut his traveling hours back substantially. He was able to stick to his diet and supplement plan most of the time now, and within a year his blood sugar readings were consistently back down in the prediabetic range.
More recently we have been able to get them down still further, and I am very happy that he chose to prioritize health over wealth.
In type 2 diabetes, which Rajiv had, many years of excess sugar consumption cause the body’s cells to become “resistant” to insulin. The pancreas is still making insulin, the hormone whose job it is to send sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells for use in energy production, but the cells are not “listening” to the insulin anymore; instead, they have gone “numb” from experiencing such high insulin levels for so many years (in direct response to excess sugar consumption).
As a consequence, they stop reacting as they should and don’t take sugar in from the bloodstream. The level of sugar in the blood becomes too high, leading eventually to the type of progressive damage noted above, and even to an early death. As the disease progresses, the cells run short of energy, hence the tiredness so characteristic of diabetes even in the early stages.
This used to be called “mature onset diabetes,” but it’s been happening to younger and younger people and has become so common that we can rightly call it an epidemic. It’s one of the classic diseases of our time, unknown before industrialization and entirely preventable.
Dr Jenny Goodman has specialized in Nutritional and Environmental Medicine for the last 20 years. An experienced speaker and author of Staying Alive in Toxic Times: A Seasonal Guide to Lifelong Health (Yellow Kite, 2020), she has a particular interest in pre-conception care and work with children.
Ann Clin Lab Sci, 1978; 8(6): 476–82; Int J Epidemiol, 2015; 44(1): 240–8
Nutrition, 2001; 17(10): 888–95; Front Pharmacol, 2011; doi: 10.3389/fphar.2011.00069