Low Carbs Cut Diabetes Inflammation

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

We already knew that diabetes and inflammation often go together. But now a study by researchers in Sweden shows us how to reduce our level of inflammation and bring down our blood sugar level as well.

Localized inflammation, like that caused by periodontal infection, is susceptible to localized treatment. But generalized, or systemic, inflammation can also bedevil those of us who have diabetes. The new study addresses this previously intractable problem.

"To simplify somewhat," writes Dr. Richard K. Bernstein in Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution, "inheritance plus inflammation plus fat in the blood feeding the liver causes insulin resistance, which causes elevated serum insulin levels, which cause the fat cells to build even more abdominal fat, which raises triglycerides in the liver's blood supply and enhances inflammation, which causes insulin levels to increase because of increased resistance to insulin." Does this sound like a vicious cycle to you too?

But note that when Dr. Bernstein writes about fat, he's not talking about the fat that we eat. He's talking about the fat circulating in our blood that comes from eating carbohydrates as well as from existing body fat. Inflammation, he writes, may possibly be the underlying cause of insulin resistance.

Dr. Bernstein is, of course, the leading practitioner in his writing, in his practice, and in his example of the benefits of a very low-carbohydrate diet to manage diabetes. Now we have hard research in support of his recommendations.

A clinical trial comparing the effects a low-carb diet against those of a traditional low-fat diet on 61 people with type 2 diabetes has just finished. The journal Annals of Medicine published the results in its May 2014 issue. The full text of this research report is online at "Advice to follow a low-carbohydrate diet has a favourable impact on low-grade inflammation in type 2 diabetes compared with advice to follow a low-fat diet."

Researchers from Linkoping University in southern Sweden, randomly assigned the participants in the study to either a low-carb diet -- with about 20 percent of their energy from carbohydrates -- or to a traditional low-fat diet -- with about 55-60 percent of their energy from carbohydrates. They found that only the people assigned to the low-carb wing of the study reduced their levels of inflammation despite the fact that people in each group averaged a weight loss of about 9 pounds. But the people in the low-carb group had lower blood sugar levels.

At the start of the study the participants had a significantly higher level of inflammation than that of people who don't have diabetes. The study included dietary advice, which the participants tended to pay the greatest attention to around the six-month mark. At that point on average they reached their greatest weight loss. So six months into the study the researchers measured the success of the people in the study in reducing their level of inflammation. The people who followed a low-carb diet were successful in reducing their level of inflammation; those who followed the traditional low-fat diet were not.

The fact that the people with diabetes in this study had a high level of inflammation doesn't come as a surprise. Back in 2009 I wrote here about "Inflammation: The Root of Diabetes." The sunny surprise of this study is that it shows how we can reverse it.

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.