FOOD, FACTS and FADS

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Can Diabetes Be Prevented?

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International diabetes symbol

International diabetes symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can Diabetes type 2  be prevented?  There are some studies that suggest that some aspects of the diet may be helpful.

Fruits and Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables and whole fruit may be the latest weapon against the diabetes epidemic.  In a 18-year epidemiological study with 71,356 women, it was reported that that each additional serving of green leafy vegetables like kale or spinach was associated with a 9% reduction in risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  When fruit servings were increased to three a day, there was an 18% lower risk of diabetes. It must be said that the study design used a self-reported food-frequency questionnaire every four years.  This design is often criticized for relying on the memory of the participants and in these studies, causality is not proven, only associations.

However, an overall consumption of fruits and vegetables or juices was not associated with any decreased risk.  When they focused on green leafy vegetables and whole fruit (not fruit juice), a  modest benefit was observed.  Interestingly, when fruit juice consumption was addressed, there was actually an increased likelihood of developing diabetes.  Each additional serving of fruit juice boosted diabetes risk by 18%.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is an often neglected nutrient in terms of disease prevention.  Researchers conducted a 36 month, randomized, double blind, controlled trial on vitamin K and bone loss in 335 non-diabetic men and women, aged 60 to 80 over a span of three years.  Subjects were given either a placebo or a 500 microgram supplement of vitamin K 1.    The most common dietary form of vitamin K is called K1 or phylloquinone and is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, escarole, kale, endive, collard greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard, and Romaine lettuce.  Also vitamin K1 is found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spring onions, and pistachios.

Even though the study focused on bone loss, it was inadvertently found that the men but not the women in the supplemental group were significantly less likely to suffer insulin resistance, a key factor  in the development of type 2 diabetes.  In insulin resistance, the pancreas produces insulin, but the muscle, fat and liver cells do not use it properly to convert glucose into energy and the glucose builds up in the bloodstream.  Insulin resistance is partly genetic but is frequently involved in a set of symptoms called metabolic syndrome. A warning: People who take anticoagulant medicines like Coumadin (warfarin) should avoid vitamin K supplementation.

Mediterranean Diet

There is no one Mediterranean diet but many food habits of people living near the Mediterranean Sea have some factors in common that include a high intake of olive oil, fruits, nuts, legumes and fish with relatively low consumption of meat and dairy. Olive oil in particular is high in monounsaturated fat (a presumed healthy fat), and is low in saturated fat which improves lipid profiles as well as insulin resistance and blood glucose control.

In this study 13,380 men and women who were diabetes -free were followed for an average of 4.4 years.  Participants were given a food-frequency questionnaire and then their responses were scored on a 9-point scale for adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet.  Although the study was limited by a low number of people diagnosed with diabetes, the results were as follows:

  • Those with the highest adherence scores were 83% less likely to develop diabetes.
  • A moderate adherence to the diet was associated with a 59% relative reduction in risk.
  • Every two-point increase in adherence resulted in a 35% risk reduction.

The benefit applied equally to older people, smokers and those with a family history of diabetes type 2.  These three studies suggest that diet can make a difference in the development  of type 2 diabetes and prevention may be achieved if lifestyle habits such as diet change for the better.

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