Pros & Cons of Managing Type 1 Diabetes Medication Free

Intro

My May 2016 blog post is going to center around the pros & cons of managing type 1 diabetes (“T1D”) without medication.  As I’m sure you are aware, I’m a strong proponent of a more naturalistic approach to managing disease, however, I realize this may not be realistic for all.

The Elusive Search for Like Minded T1Ds

Since I was diagnosed with T1D nearly 2.5 years ago, nearly all of my interactions with other T1Ds have been those managing the disease through insulin. Unfortunately, finding another T1D managing the disease without meds is like finding a needle in haystack.

Although these insulin dependent T1Ds are generally supportive of my efforts, I have been overly surprised about their lack of interest in truly understanding my practices that has allowed me to be medication free for nearly 2.5 years. After all, I’m essentially providing a guide to potentially cure their disease.

The No Med Path Just Isn’t Worth It

I paraphrased below some of the more common comments I’ve heard from other T1Ds:

“It’s amazing what you are doing, but I like my donuts too much”

“Your diet is too restrictive and unrealistic”

“We are all going to die someday, so why not enjoy junk food and other standard american diet (“SAD”) staples”

“I’ve learned to manage the disease with insulin quite comfortably, so I’m not really motivated to try and remove myself from medication through your diet”

“I use the pump now and it makes managing my disease much easier with far less injections”

The Two Ends of the Spectrum

On one end of the T1D spectrum, there are those that relentlessly pursue avenues to stay off of medication at all costs (like myself) and on the other end there are those that are completely informed of the potential for diet to remove the necessity of medication but choose to stay medicated for various reasons.

I can respect those T1Ds at the opposite end of the spectrum than myself and fully understand their choices, but I’ve come to realize that there is an unbridgeable gap in mindset to living with this disease with medication or without medication.

An Objective View of the T1D Options

I’m going to try and give an objective view of the pros and cons of managing T1D through a plant-based diet. The options below were a majority of the issues that I had to consider when deciding how I wanted to approach the disease.

Most long-term T1Ds are set in their ways and drastically changing their approach to managing the disease is probably not going to happen. This matrix below is best for those newly minted T1Ds in their 20s and 30s that will have to live with this disease for 40-50 more years.

This was my situation, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around being heavily medicated with daily injections for another 50 years. I don’t care how many T1Ds tell me managing through meds isn’t that bad, this just sounded like such a nightmare to me.

Below I created chart that portrays many of the key issues that any T1D needs to consider before determining the best approach to managing the disease for them personally. The one column shows the Standard American Diet (“SAD”) T1D approach while the other approach is my plant-based diet (“PBD”) approach.

To note, I admit that most T1Ds are relatively healthy in nature compared to a majority of the population, so when I say SAD T1Ds, I mean these individuals eat a relatively healthy diet, but it’s still full of animal products, heavy carbs (i.e. pasta, bread, oatmeal), fruit and occasional sweets which in turn requires the use of insulin to manage the disease.

The Pros & Cons to Managing T1D Medication Free

Diet Type Standard American Diet Plant-Based Diet
1 Cost to Maintain Diet Lower (√) Higher
2 Time Commitment to Maintain Diet Lower (√) Higher
3 Daily Finger Pricking to Check Blood Sugar 3-10 Once (√)
4 Eating Out Easier (√) Difficult
5 Health Risks Associated with Medication Yes No (√)
6 Healthcare Costs to Manage Disease Higher Lower (√)
7 Insulin Injections Required No (√)
8 Irritability Lower (√) Higher
9 Level of Dietary Restrictions Lower (√) Higher
10 Level of Physical Condition Lower Higher (√)
11 Longevity in Life Shorter Longer (√)
12 Medication Required Yes No (√)
13 Overall Level of Health Lower Higher (√)
14 Overall Level of Health – Family Lower Higher (√)
15 Overall Satisfaction on Diet Taste Higher (√) Lower
16 Physical Appearance Heavier (√) Skinnier
17 Risk of Other Diseases / Cancer Higher Lower (√)
18 Sense of “Fitting In” Higher (√) Lower
19 Sleep Quality Lower Higher (√)
20 Stress of Living with Disease Higher Lower (√)
Count 8 12

1 – Winner = SAD – The SAD is definitely the cheaper approach to managing the disease. The plant-based diet can get expensive with the organic produce.

2 – Winner = SAD – The plant-based diet is definitely higher maintenance than the SAD. Once you get into the rhythm of the PB diet, it’s not too bad, but it’s a major adjustment having to cook a lot of your meals instead of popping a frozen meal in the microwave.

3 – Winner = PBD – Going the SAD route will significantly increase the amount of times per day you need to test your blood sugar (i.e. more finger pricks). That said. there are continuous monitors that are available these days which make it easier for medicated T1Ds but it would still be on your mind all day.

4 – Winner = SAD – Eating out with a PBD is a major pain. Hardly any restaurants offer vegan options, and most dinner plates have God knows what in them. I try to avoid eating out as much as I can, but sometimes it’s inevitable. I will say it is getting easier and some restaurants are starting to be more accommodating with plant-based options.

5 – Winner= PBD – A big risk with SAD T1Ds is hypoglycemia. This is essentially when your blood sugar drops too low and you can pass out. This is very dangerous if you are driving or if you are drinking alcohol.  I have zero risk associated with medication because I’m not on any, and I can still drink alcohol worry free!

6 – Winner = PBD – The only real direct medical costs I experience are buying test strips every 3 months and the co-pay at my annual endocrinologist appointment. SAD T1Ds will have much higher costs associated with more testing strips, more doctor visits, insulin pumps, insulin, continuous glucose monitoring devices, etc.

7 – Winner = PBD – Besides one finger prick each day, I have to experience zero needle injections. This makes it all worth it for me. For SAD T1Ds, medical advancements, like the insulin pump, have minimized the amount of injections that are necessary. However, sticking yourself with needles in some form or fashion will always be involved on the SAD as a T1D.

8 – Winner = SAD – I’m definitely more irritable than I used to be. However, I had my first child and was diagnosed with T1Ds within 2 weeks of each other. All you parents know that young children definitely increase the stress level in a household, so this could be causing it too. There is something to be said about the soothing nature of bad food. Ultimately, I think more carbs in one’s diet just decreases moodiness.

9 – Winner = SAD – A SAD T1D essentially has no dietary restrictions because you can pump yourself full of insulin when those blood sugars start to skyrocket. I have a much more restrictive diet, but I enjoy most of the foods I eat. I don’t really miss the SAD ways because once you become enlightened on how bad this way of eating is, you’ll desire it less and less.

10 – Winner = PBD – My level of physical condition has never been higher. I hardly sweat when I run or play racquetball and my body aches much less than it used to.

11 – Winner = PBD – This is always tough to benchmark, but most sources I read say a PBD will prolong ones life by 7 to 10 years vs. a SAD. I guess this really isn’t that much longer, so I understand when certain T1Ds would rather just eat the SAD, enjoy food better and die a little younger.

12 – Winner = PBD – I don’t care how many T1Ds tell me they have gotten used to life on insulin…nobody wants to be medicated, especially a form that requires getting stuck with needles on a daily basis.

13 – Winner = PBD – I noticed my eye sight improved, any acne I had went away and I just overall felt like my body / mind operated better. I hardly get sick anymore either, and when I do, it’s usually very mild and only lasts for a couple days.

14 – Winner = PBD – If you manage T1D with no medication, your immediate family will most likely adopt your diet to a certain extent, which in turn has created a much healthier wife, son and daughter for me.

15 – Winner = SAD – Obviously a Big Mac with Fries tastes better than raw lentil tacos.

16 – Winner = SAD – The PBD will make the weight shed off.  I am currently right where I should be according to the BMI standards, Unfortunately, a majority of society is obese, so the PBD T1Ds look too “skinny”, while the SAD T1Ds look “normal” and “healthy”. Very annoying…

17 – Winner = PBD – Living with a PBD greatly minimizes your risk of ancillary diseases outside of diabetes. Living life on a SAD highly increases your risk not only to diabetic related disease (i.e. blindness, limb removal, hypo/hyperglycemia) but to the other popular killers like heart disease, strokes, etc.

18 – Winner = SAD – Unfortunately, living a PBD life will make you feel like an outsider most of the time. When you go to family outings or dinner parties, you are the only “weirdo” not chowing down on steak, chicken, donuts, candy, cheese and ice cream.

Eating a SAD is much easier to conform to society. Also, good or bad, PBD T1Ds with no meds will become enlightened about the true world around you. I feel fortunate to experience this, but sometimes ignorance is bliss, as I just feel like the more research I do, the more frustrated I become about what the reality is about what goes into the mainstream food around us.

19 – Winner = PBD – My sleep vastly improved once I started the PBD. I recommend this diet to anyone having sleep issues. I can almost guarantee you’ll notice a difference within only a few short days.

20 – Winner = PBD – As I’ve mentioned before, most of the time my life is completely unaffected by T1D. If not for the finger prick in the morning, it’s really like I’m just a normal individual living life on a healthier diet. Dealing with the high and low blood sugar readings, needles and excessive finger pricks that come with a SAD would be much more stressful than what I deal with.

Conclusion

In summary, I hope I portrayed an objective view of what all T1Ds would need to consider before deciding between my strategy of managing the disease vs. the mainstream / medicated way. There are certainly +/- to both strategies, and it really comes down to personal mindset and what motivates you.

Personally, in regards to managing T1D through diet / exercise, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sure, I miss out on the ability to eat the mainstream fast food and junk food that tastes incredibly good, however, what are the long-term effects of picking the SAD way? Certainly not good…

I didn’t choose to be a T1D, but I feel like it’s my duty to try and educate other T1Ds (or anyone in general) that there are more disease management options that than your mainstream doctor tells you. Even though I personally don’t know of any T1Ds that I’ve positively impacted, I’m just going to keep plugging away!