Stop Prediabetes Now

By Jack Challem, Ron Hunninghake, M.D., & Richard Passwater, Ph.D

Dr. Richard Passwater is a nutrition researcher and author who recently interviewed Jack Challem and Ron Hunninghake, M.D. about their upcoming book, Stop Prediabetes Now, scheduled for release in November, which is American Diabetes Month.

Challem: When I visited The Center in 1997 and saw my blood test results, I realized I was prediabetic. This experience became part of my motivation for writing Syndrome X, which is a form of prediabetes. In my subsequent visits to The Center, Dr. Ron and I spent more and more time talking, which led to a friendship and to the collaboration on Stop Prediabetes Now.

Passwater: How is Stop Prediabetes Now different from Syndrome X?

Hunninghake: Stop Prediabetes Now is a much more practical book in terms of what to do about prediabetes, full-blown diabetes, and overweight. We begin with the idea that overweight and prediabetes are two intertwined health problems. When you improve one condition, the other will almost always improve. We recommend specific blood tests to get the full picture of glucose intolerance (or tolerance, as the case may be), explain how to safely shop in supermarkets and natural food stores, read food labels, recommend foods that stabilize appetite and blood sugar, and suggest a number of beneficial supplements. It’s a much more integrated approach because the solution isn’t just taking a lot of supplements. Reversing prediabetes and overweight involves changing eating habits, getting more active physically, and controlling stress. When people start getting their blood sugar problems under control, they notice a number of “side benefits”
to their health.

Challem: The standard American diet is perfect for creating prediabetes, overweight, and diabetes. It’s difficult for people to navigate the market aisles and restaurant menus and to eat safe
and healthy foods. In many ways, Stop Prediabetes Now is a manual for how to eat healthy and to prevent and reverse these health problems.

Passwater: How serious of a problem is prediabetes?

Hunninghake: It may be “ground zero” in the many degenerative health problems people now face. Look at the situation this way: People with prediabetes have glucose intolerance problems,
and they usually have nutritional deficiencies that impair how they process carbohydrates. Both glucose intolerance and nutritional deficiencies set the stage for other health problems.
The single major risk factor for prediabetes and full-blown diabetes mellitus is being overweight. Two-thirds of Americans are now overweight, and four out of five men are overweight. Depending on whose numbers you use, 40 to 100 million adults are prediabetic.  Because of the increases in overweight, prediabetes, and diabetes, related health problems will increase and life expectancy will likely start decreasing in the next few years. If someone is prediabetic and doesn’t do anything to change the of the disease, he will likely become diabetic within a few years. Being overweight, prediabetic, or diabetic significantly increases the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, many types of cancer, and inflammatory problems. People become prediabetic as they age.
Poor nutrition can accelerate the process and good nutrition can slow it.

Passwater: What are some of the symptoms of prediabetes?

Challem: I think two of the most common symptoms are feeling tired and mentally fuzzy, especially after eating. Many people have traditionally attributed this post-meal tiredness to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Blood tests have never really confirmed this, which is why conventional doctors have always argued that they don’t see many cases of hypoglycemia.
Blood sugar levels go up after a meal, and recent research has clearly shown that higher blood sugar levels increase mental fuzziness and feeling tired. There is a family of brain chemicals called orexins, which enable us to feel alert. However, as blood sugar levels increase, production of orexins shuts down, making us feel less alert and more tired. So, people who get tired after
eating lunch are actually experiencing hyperglycemia, or blood sugar that’s too high. That’s a sign of prediabetes.

Hunninghake: There are many clinical signs that point strongly to prediabetes. One is insulin resistance, where the buildup of low-grade inflammation in
the body silently causes a dysfunction of insulin receptors. Then, the body cannot process blood sugar properly. Another is elevated triglycerides. Still others include elevated cholesterol, hypertension, and abdominal obesity. These are the symptoms that makeup Syndrome X, but they’re all related to excess insulin, which itself is related to consuming too many sugars and sugar-like carbs.  As mentioned, there is this inflammatory component of prediabetes.  When the body is injured or stressed, the body secretes a number of inflammation-promoting cytokines, including
interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein. These are communication molecules that set off “red lights and sirens” in the body. There is a cascade effect, so inflammation becomes a bigger and bigger
problem. People who are prediabetic, diabetic, or overweight tend to have higher levels of these inflammatory signals. It’s important to recognize that “normal” blood sugar levels may not
be ideal. The standard reference range is between 65 and 99 mg/dl of blood, but this range is far too wide to be of any real value. The best fasting blood sugar level seems to be right around
80 mg/dl of blood. Some research has shown that people with “high normal” blood sugar levels are more likely to develop diabetes within a few years, compared with people who have “low
normal” blood sugar levels. Normal does not necessarily mean healthy.

Passwater: What are the major dietary causes of prediabetes?

Challem: The dietary causes are the usual problematic eating habits and foods that most people hear about. They include: Too many sugary and sugar-like carbs, regardless of whether you count
them in grams or calories, trans fats, refined omega-6 oils, and deficiencies of nutrients involved in insulin function and glucose control. There are also the nondietary factors, such as not getting
enough physical activity and not protecting against stress. Stress increases insulin and the stress hormone cortisol, both of which promote the formation of belly fat. Like a lot of people, I took plenty of supplements (and still do), but for years gave only lip service to diet and exercise. Many of the retailers I see at trade shows are not the picture of health; they don’t set a good example for their customers. They’re fat, stressed, and prediabetic. They get caught up in the pressures of running a business and forget to take care of themselves. They don’t have to be perfect, but I think
they should do their best to set a good example for their customers. Otherwise, their credibility is hurt.

Passwater: What are the foods that improve blood sugar and help people reduce weight?

Challem: First on my list is quality protein, namely fish and organic chicken.  Protein stabilizes and often lowers blood sugar levels, helping people avoid the extreme blood sugar swings that invariably lead to hunger and overeating. By controlling blood sugar levels, protein suppresses appetite, so people tend to eat fewer calories. Even when people eat more protein calories, the body responds to those calories in a healthier way. In contrast, eating sugars and sugar like carbs—breads and pastas, regardless of whether they’re whole grain or refined, stimulates insulin secretion. Excess insulin increases belly fat, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Second on my list are high-fiber vegetables. They also stabilize blood sugar. When you are eating quality protein and high-fiber veggies, you’re eating a balanced diet. If you’re relatively sedentary, you don’t need any more carbs than those in the veggies.  If you’re very active physically, you can probably tolerate more pure starch, such as bread and pasta. The irony is that much of the health food industry was built on the idea of whole-grain goodness, which now doesn’t appear to be so good after
all. Around the turn of the century, Dr. John Kellogg used whole grains to treat a lot of people at his sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan. Americans weren’t eating much in the way of vegetables
then. But when you look at the Paleo diet data, humans seemed to do better, historically, with just protein and veggies. When grains became dietary staples, a lot of illnesses, including bone problems, arthritis, and birth defects, suddenly became common.

Hunninghake: From a clinical perspective, people who are overweight and prediabetic generally respond best to a low-carb diet built around quality protein and high-fiber vegetables. Such people tend to be carbohydrate sensitive, or they are outright carb addicts. They’re almost always sedentary. They just don’t need the carbs, and when they eat carbs, they almost always go back to the eating habits that made them sick. We’re not advocating an Atkins-type diet, but more of a protein-rich, high-color, and high fiber hunter-gatherer style of eating.