Will a Low Carb Diet Help A Type 1 Diabetic?

Taking Insulin for Type 1 DiabetesIf you’re a frequent visitor to CarbSmart.com there’s a good chance you’re either on a low carb diet or a type 2 diabetic. You’ve reduced your carbohydrate intake to levels that allow you to lose and maintain a healthy weight, lower your blood pressure and/or level and reduce your daily blood sugar numbers. And as most low carbers know these health benefits can lead to a happier and healthier life.

But what if you’re a Type 1 diabetic? Type 1s are not producing enough insulin and they must take insulin to keep their blood sugar levels from running out of control. Type 1 diabetics are usually eating more starchy carbohydrates to ‘balance’ the insulin they’re injecting rather than lowering their blood sugar with a low carb diet.

In a recent article by Dr. John Briffa, he posits that if a type 1 diabetic eats less carb, they will require less insulin.

So now we have the potential for good blood sugar control and lower insulin requirements. And, as has been noted, this approach is likely to help prevent highs and lows in blood sugar which are common in type 1 diabetic who base their diet on starchy carbs.

In my experience, when one discusses this approach and the logic to it with a type 1 diabetic, they get it in an instant. I’ve met many type 1 diabetics who have worked this out for themselves. And yet, many health professionals and the charity Diabetes UK remain intransigent.

For what it’s worth, some Swedish researchers recently published a study in which a low carbohydrate diet was tested in a group of type 1 diabetics [Nielsen JV, et al. Low carbohydrate diet in type 1 diabetes, long-term improvement and adherence: a clinical audit. Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome 2012;4:23]. The study subjects were asked to limit their carbohydrate intake to no more than 75 grams a day. Blood sugar control was assessed with a test known as the HbA1c, which provides a measure of overall control in the preceding three months or so. The HbA1c is usually expressed as a percentage, with less than 5 per cent generally being taken to show very good blood sugar control (typically seen in non-diabetics). The average HbA1c in the study subjects was 7.6 at the start of the study. The HbA1c was retested at 3 months and 4 years.

As with all things, some stuck with the advice regarding carbohydrate restriction, and some did not. Those who did not comply with the advice saw no significant change in their HbA1c levels over time. On the other hand, the subjects who went with the advice saw their HbA1c levels drop to an average of 6.0 per cent. Clinically, this would be seen as a very significant drop clinically, and signal generally much improved blood sugar control.

The authors make the point that individuals adjusted their insulin downwards as carbohydrate was restricted. So, what we have is much better blood sugar control, lower risk of complications, and less need for medication by adopting a lower-carbohydrate diet.

Read the original article Low-carbohydrate diet proven to be very effective in type 1 diabetics (just as you’d expect) by Dr. John Briffa.

As the study participants reduced their carbohydrate consumption, they reduced their daily use of insulin. They had better control over their blood sugar numbers and leveled out their peaks and valleys. This in turn can lead to a lower risk of diabetic complications, possible weight loss and a probable host of other health benefits. Interestingly, these are the same benefits we Type 2 diabetics enjoy on a low carb diet. It looks like we both win by adopting a low carb diet and that’s a very good thing.

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  1. I’m at a high risk for type 2 diabetes. My mom has it and I had gestational diabetes with both my pregnancies. I don’t want to go that route! My A1C before going consistently low-carb about 1 1/2 years ago was 5.9. When I got tested again last month, it came down to 5.3. This lifestyle really works and I don’t want to go back to my old blood-sugar swinging days!

    While on that subject, it kills me when I hear diabetics say that they just adjust their insulin for the carbs they eat. It’s like applying a band-aid. A former co-worker of mine, whose 8 year old child was diagnosed type 1 diabetes, told me that she feeds her son a healthy breakfast of a glass of orange juice, waffles or pancakes with syrup and some eggs in the morning (every day, that is). Are you kidding me? She said that all they have to do is adjust the insulin, per their physician. Fast forward 2-3 hours when the school called on a regular basis that his glucose level dropped to 50. Uhhuh…. And you are surprised, why??? This would be an excellent opportunity to get the entire family to eat healthy instead of fast food, pizza, ice-cream, ya know, the typical American diet. I did give her resources, like specific podcast links and websites to read up on how eating low-carb benefits diabetics, but I guess they weren’t ready for it yet. That’s really too bad and I hope things will change for the better in time.

    Sorry about the rant, I’m just passionate about the subject.

    Take care,

  2. Back in ’99, when I was a newly-self-published author, I did a book signing at the local Borders. After the event, a fit and attractive boy of about 16 came up to me and told me he was there on behalf of his father. Turns out his dad was a local cardiothoracic surgeon, who prescribed the Atkins diet for all of his bypass patients. He was scaring the other cardiologists to death, yet, puzzlingly, his patients got far better results than the others. He’d sent his son because he was operating that evening.

    The young man told me that his father had first learned about low carb nutrition because he, the son, was a type 1 diabetic. When his pancreas gave out, he and his parents had rapidly discovered that keeping his carb intake to a minimum not only meant he had to inject far, far less insulin than he otherwise would, but also that his glucose was far more stable than most type 1s, which in turn meant a far lower risk of diabetic complications and long-term damage to his cardiovascular and nervous systems.

    Ran into the kid a few years back; he’s now a fit and handsome man. He told me he still has rock-steady blood sugar and no complications. Further, his dad had done blood work on him, and said that his LDL was virtually all the big, fluffy, harmless stuff, not the small, dense kind that presages heart disease.

    I wish every doctor in the world would give a copy of Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution to every newly diagnosed type 1. It not only would save lives, but also endless suffering.

  3. Just another affirmation of the benefits of a low carb weight loss lifestyle. Why is it that after all of these years and so many success stories, the low carb way still has so many detractors. I was always told to “follow the money”. Huh! I wonder?

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