Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease with symptoms exacerbated by poor diet and lifestyle choices. The increasing number of people affected (at a worldwide rate of 3%-5% a year) suggests our environment, such as diet, plays a role in this disease.

Cases per year

64,000 people are diagnosed each year in the U.S. 1

General frequency

1.4 million adults aged 20 years or older—or 5.7% of all US adults— are living with type 1 diabetes 2.

Risk

22 years of healthy life are lost per person— an estimate of the time lost to ill-health, disability or early death— from living with Type 1 Diabetes 3

Improve type 1 diabetes management with a plant-based diet and lifestyle changes

A plant-based diet can help patients with type 1 diabetes improve their insulin sensitivity and glycemic control, sometimes leading to reduction in their insulin requirements.

Dr Laurie Marbas

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Top scientific research supporting our approach

Physical activity significantly improves the symptoms of type 1 diabetes and reduces the risk of further health-related complications 

Impact of Physical Activity on Glycemic Control and Prevalence of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Adults With Type 1 Diabetes: A Cross-sectional Multicenter Study of 18,028 Patients

A large cross-sectional study looked at the activity levels of 18,028 adults with type 1 diabetes. Patients who were most physically active (exercising two or more times per week) had significantly better control over their type 1 diabetes and related conditions. They had better HbA1c concentrations, a healthier BMI, less dyslipidemia, lower rates of hypertension, and fewer diabetes-related complications (retinopathy and microalbuminuria) than patients who were less active. In addition to these benefits, active patients with type 1 diabetes tended to have less diabetic ketoacidosis and a reduced risk of developing severe hypoglycemia with coma. Maintaining an active lifestyle when living with type 1 diabetes can therefore be a huge determinant in quality of life and years spent in good health 4.

Regular exercise significantly decreases the need for insulin in people with type 1 diabetes 

What are the health benefits of physical activity in type 1 diabetes mellitus? A literature review 

This study examined the available scientific literature looking at the link between physical activity and type 1 diabetes. Overall, patients with T1D who exercise regularly have a significantly reduced total daily insulin need and less insulin resistance. Alongside this crucial benefit, people with T1D who exercise regularly had better fitness levels, better lipid levels, improved endothelial function, lower risk of mortality and heart disease, and overall better well being 5

Plant-forward diet associated with better glycemic control in people with type 1 diabetes 

Greater diet quality is associated with more optimal glycemic control in a longitudinal study of youth with type 1 diabetes

Movement towards a plant-based diet (increasing whole plant foods, intake of fiber, natural sugar, and carbohydrate) was associated with multiple measures of better glycemic control in young people with type 1 diabetes. Specifically, dietary fiber and intake of whole plant foods were associated with better glycemic control across several indicators 6.

Switching to a plant-based diet can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin requirements in type 1 diabetes patients

Plant-Based Diets for Type 1 Diabetes 

Scientists presented 2 case studies of patients with type 1 diabetes switching to a plant-based diet years after initial diagnosis. In both cases, the patients experienced significant increases in insulin sensitivity and reductions in insulin requirements after the adoption of a plant-based diet. Even though they consumed more carbohydrates (in the form of whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and grains) their glycemic control significantly improved. Overall, their type 1 diabetes was under better control, and they were also able to reduce cholesterol levels and lose weight 7

Below you will find more general information about type 1 diabetes

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes your body to attack and destroy its own insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. Because of this, your body is unable to make insulin, resulting in insulin deficiency 8.

When we eat food it gets broken down into various components, including glucose which enters our bloodstream to travel to different cells around the body. Insulin is the key to allowing glucose out of our bloodstream and into our cells. So when no insulin is produced, is you are unable to let glucose into your cells, leading to hyperglycemia, meaning the level of sugar in the blood is too high.

diagram of type 1 diabetes showing that because the pancreas produces no insulin, blood glucose is unable to get into the cells, therefore it says in the blood causing blood glucose levels to rise

Symptoms 

Before you get diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, your body will be attempting to get rid of the glucose via your kidneys. This makes you wee a lot (polyuria), which is one of the first symptoms of diabetes. Other symptoms include feeling thirsty, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss 9.  

Further down the line, type 1 diabetes can cause other health problems, especially when not properly managed. These include 9

  • Microalbuminuria
  • Kidney problems (nephropathy)
  • Eye problems (retinopathy) 
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy) 
  • Heart disease 

Individuals with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease and die of heart disease-related complications 10. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and other complications; it’s useful to have a physician that can monitor and advise these changes. 

Diagnosis 

The diagnostic test most commonly used is:

  • Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This blood test measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 2 to 3 months. It measures the amount of blood sugar (glucose) attached to hemoglobin, which is a protein that carries oxygen in our red blood cells. Higher blood sugar levels indicate you have more hemoglobin with sugar attached. If you get an A1C level of 6.5% or higher on two separate tests, it means you have diabetes. 

If you get a diagnosis of diabetes, your provider may also run blood tests which will help determine whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. 

Management  

Everyone living with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin. Diet and lifestyle choices can impact how much insulin you need, and make living with type 1 diabetes much more manageable. 

Management of type 1 diabetes is therefore made up of: 

  • Taking insulin 
  • Monitoring blood sugar levels 
  • Monitoring food intake 
  • Eating a healthy diet 
  • Getting regular exercise  

Exercise and switching to a plant-forward diet can help reduce the need for insulin and improve management of type 1 diabetes.

For many people with type 1 diabetes, simply being told to exercise more is not a sufficient solution. Several barriers may exist for the individual, including a fear of hypoglycaemia, loss of glycaemic control, an absence of motivation, and a general lack of knowledge around exercise management 11 12. These reasons, leading to lack of physical activity, likely contribute to why the majority of people with type 1 diabetes do not have a healthy bodyweight (about 60% are overweight or obese), about 40% have hypertension, about 60% have dyslipidaemia 13. With the right support, exercise is a key tool of type 1 diabetes management and can improve HbA1c concentrations, a healthier BMI, less dyslipidemia, lower rates of hypertension, and fewer diabetes-related complications (retinopathy and microalbuminuria).

Increasing your intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes is recommended for people with type 1 diabetes due to the beneficial effects on glycemic control. Fiber-rich foods have been shown to reduce blood sugar levels after a meal in patients with type 1 diabetes 14

The risk of developing complications can also be managed by keeping blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood fats under control. These can all be successfully managed by eating more plant, getting better sleep, moving more, and making sure you have strong social connections with others.  

Think you may be struggling with this and need help? Get in touch with us today to make a change.

References

1. Rogers, M. A. M., Kim, C., Banerjee, T. & Lee, J. M. Fluctuations in the incidence of type 1 diabetes in the United States from 2001 to 2015: a longitudinal study. BMC Med. 15, 199 (2017).

2. National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020. Estimates of diabetes and its burden in the United States. 32 (2020).

3. United States. Type 1 Diabetes Index https://www.t1dindex.org/countries/the-united-states/.

4. Bohn, B. et al. Impact of Physical Activity on Glycemic Control and Prevalence of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Adults With Type 1 Diabetes: A Cross-sectional Multicenter Study of 18,028 Patients. Diabetes Care 38, 1536–1543 (2015).

5. Chimen, M. et al. What are the health benefits of physical activity in type 1 diabetes mellitus? A literature review. Diabetologia 55, 542–551 (2012).

6. Nansel, T. R., Lipsky, L. M. & Liu, A. Greater diet quality is associated with more optimal glycemic control in a longitudinal study of youth with type 1 diabetes. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 104, 81–87 (2016).

7. Kahleova, H., Carlsen, B., Berrien Lopez, R. & Barnard, N. D. Plant-Based Diets for Type 1 Diabetes. J. Diabetes Metab. 11, (2020).

8. Ziegler, A.-G. et al. Type 1 Diabetes Prevention: A Goal Dependent on Accepting a Diagnosis of an Asymptomatic Disease. Diabetes 65, 3233–3239 (2016).

9. Daneman, D. Type 1 diabetes. The Lancet 367, 847–858 (2006).

10. Norhammar, A. et al. Diabetes mellitus: the major risk factor in unstable coronary artery disease even after consideration of the extent of coronary artery disease and benefits of revascularization. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 43, 585–591 (2004).

11. Lascar, N. et al. Attitudes and Barriers to Exercise in Adults with Type 1 Diabetes (T1DM) and How Best to Address Them: A Qualitative Study. PLoS ONE 9, e108019 (2014).

12. Brazeau, A.-S., Rabasa-Lhoret, R., Strychar, I. & Mircescu, H. Barriers to Physical Activity Among Patients With Type 1 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 31, 2108–2109 (2008).

13. Riddell, M. C. et al. Exercise management in type 1 diabetes: a consensus statement. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 5, 377–390 (2017).

14. Riccardi, G., Rivellese, A. A. & Giacco, R. Role of glycemic index and glycemic load in the healthy state, in prediabetes, and in diabetes. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 87, 269S-274S (2008).

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