Diabetes Self-Management Blog

There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Some of it is benign, some of it is irritating, and some of it is downright dangerous. This is a story about the dangerous kind.

I was lucky enough to be diagnosed with diabetes very early in the disease’s onset. Unlike most people, I never went to the hospital with a blood glucose level in the 800’s. A doctor caught my elevated blood glucose during a routine checkup when it was only 150. That meant I didn’t even have to go on insulin yet, as my system was still producing TOO MUCH insulin for that to work. And so I had this strange 2–3 month “waiting period” before insulin became necessary.

During those several months, I went on a number of diets, used homeopathic remedies, and engaged in all manner of alternative treatments aimed at “preventing” diabetes before it could take hold. Needless to say, they didn’t work. And so I went on insulin. I remember the day I first took insulin was actually kind of a relief, since it meant I could finally have some real food again. My first insulin-assisted meal was pizza, and it was wonderful!

But our search for naturopathic remedies wasn’t done yet. Figuring it was still early in the disease, and my beta cell functioning wasn’t completely gone yet (which it wasn’t — it takes a while for your beta cells to shut down completely, which means your first few years of managing diabetes with insulin can be a “honeymoon” period where your body is continuing to assist in smoothing out your blood glucose), we started seeing another doctor who specialized in acupuncture and various supplements.

I don’t remember what the supplements were — they all had esoteric names and origins. But I remember I was taking a LOT of them. Each morning, I’d grab my handful of 10 pills along with breakfast, and choke ’em down. They didn’t seem to hurt anything, and I was very good about monitoring my blood glucose. But they weren’t exactly doing anything in the positive direction, either.

About a month or so into working with this guy, we asked about the end-goal, and what we should be expecting to see. He was genuinely puzzled that I still needed insulin, having figured his cocktail of supplements would have eliminated that need by now. He claimed that “other diabetics” he had worked with were off insulin very quickly. He also insisted that these were people with Type 1, not Type 2. I am very skeptical that he really knew the difference, but he was a convincing kind of guy.

What he said next finally confirmed our growing suspicion that this guy was, at best, in WAY over his head, and at worst a complete fraud. He told me, and I kid you not, that I needed to STOP taking my insulin. He figured that if I stopped taking my insulin, it would “jump-start” the process internally and my beta cells would take over the job (spurred to action, or course, by those magical pills).

Now my family is obviously fairly open-minded when it comes to medicine, or we would not have pursued this line of action at all. I grew up in Boulder, where natural medicine is very widely accepted and viewed as perfectly legitimate. But we also understood that it was NEVER meant to replace what allopathic (or “western”) medicine does. And so we told him we would be leaving his office, and not returning. We also explained to the man how incredibly irresponsible that suggestion really was, and that it could easily have put my life at risk had I followed his advice.

After that experience, we let go of the idea that an alternative therapy could “reverse” the process going on inside my body. We continued to use acupuncture and the like in tandem with insulin, and I continue to recommend it. I don’t recommend it to EVER replace traditional care, and most responsible practitioners would NEVER make the kind of outlandish suggestion our good friend from this story did. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, and nutritionists understand that these things can help promote health, but were never meant to replace the job of insulin and proper diabetes care.

So, remember this. Alternative medicines and therapies can be great — they can relieve stress, they can improve control, they can honestly assist you in taking care of yourself as someone with diabetes. But if anyone ever tells you to mess with your daily care, get out of that office and never look back.

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Comments
  1. Amen, brother!

    Posted by Redneck Angel |
  2. If you’r tempted by complementary and alternative medicine modalities, check them out first at the Science-Based Medicine blog.

    -Steve

    Posted by Steve Parker, M.D. |
  3. There are several alternative medicines that have been properly studied and proven to positively effect most people’s glucose control. None of them will reverse or cure the disease. None of them are a replacement for qualified medical care.

    I’ve tried a number of supplements -not just for glucose, but heart health as well. Some helped. Others didn’t. The ones that help, I still use, but all of this was done under the supervision of my internist, cardiologist (who recommends fish oil for all his patients) and endocrinologist.

    The key to this and most health care is that each body is different. It takes time and effort to determine what gives results for you, and a doctor or team of medical professionals who understand how to use alternative therapy as an adjunct to their medical practice.

    I’m fortunate to have access to care at a leading university medical center that prides itself on both cutting edge and open-minded therapy.

    Posted by Joe |

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