Beating diabetes with a diet from the dawn of Man

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ASCOTTISH businessman believes diet rather than drugs may play a key part in tackling the epidemic of diabetes among Scots. Graeme Chatham was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in January 2002 and was prescribed drugs to lower his blood-sugar levels. But he decided to attempt to control his condition without medication, by following a strict dietary regime.

Chatham would now like to see a major research project carried out to assess the impact of this type of diet in the hope that it could help other diabetics and reduce the NHS drugs bill.

"I knew absolutely nothing about the condition, however I had spent my entire business life analysing and solving problems," he explains. "To me, this was just another to take on, if somewhat daunting."

As well as staying active, he started cutting out foods such as white bread, chocolate and processed products from his diet, rejecting anything which contained processed sugar.

He says his weight dropped and his blood-sugar levels remained stable for three years.

But, by 2005, his levels were up again and his GP suggested he start using the medication to control his diabetes. Again, Chatham resisted and further restricted his diet, cutting out all cereals, bread, milk, red meat and dairy products.

Such a regime has been labelled a "hunter-gatherer" diet - returning to what our ancient ancestors would have eaten. Chatham, a company director of car dealership Graeme P Chatham Ltd, says: "Their diet would have consisted, in the main, of fish and shellfish, eggs, game of all kinds, nuts, berries, roots, mushrooms, herbs and leaf vegetables. Life must have been physically demanding, short and brutal. However, whatever they died of, you can be sure it was not diabetes.

"I assessed that if I stayed within the parameters of the hunter-gatherer concept, I could vary my diet infinitely within it and that it could be adapted to suit individual likes and dislikes."

A typical day on the diet could include a breakfast of stir-fried chicken, mushrooms and peppers. Lunch may be homemade chicken soup, while dinner could include salmon, green vegetables and mixed berries for dessert.

Chatham says the advantages of such a diet, as well as controlling his diabetes, included not getting hunger pangs as was the case with many other diets. He has even developed his own recipe for a low-carb loaf of bread and has recommended the diet to friends, after telling them to discuss it with their doctor first.

Chatham's personal experience was given extra backing recently when study looked at the consequences of feeding people a "Palaeolithic" diet, similar to what humans were eating when they first walked out of Africa 70,000 years ago.

Scientists found that patients with poor glucose control greatly improved their ability to handle sugar after switching to a diet of fruit, nuts, vegetables and lean meat or fish.

Cereals, dairy products, refined fat and sugar - which provide most of the calories of the modern diet - only became staple foods with the start of agriculture about 9,000 years ago.

For the study, 14 glucose-intolerant heart patients were asked to copy the diet of their ancient ancestors for 12 weeks. They were compared with a similar group of 15 patients who adopted a supposedly healthy Mediterranean diet featuring whole-grain cereals, low-fat dairy products, fruit, vegetables and unsaturated fats.

All those taking part suffered from boosted blood sugar after consuming carbohydrates, and most had symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

After 12 weeks, the carbohydrate-linked blood-sugar rises had fallen by 26 per cent in the stone-age diet group.

In contrast, it barely changed for those on the Mediterranean diet, falling by only 7 per cent. At the end of the study, all the patients in the Palaeolithic group had normal blood glucose.

Dr Staffan Lindeberg, who conducted the study at Lund University, concludes that if people wanted to prevent or treat diabetes type 2, it may be more efficient to avoid some of modern foods than to count calories or carbohydrates.

In earlier studies, Lindeberg's team found a remarkable absence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes among members of the Kitava tribe on the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea. Modern agriculture-based food is unavailable on the islands and they still live a hunter-gatherer existence.

Chatham now wants larger scale trials in the UK to test his diet to try to save the NHS money in the long-term and improve the lives of diabetes patients.

"Surely the time is right for a properly controlled study to provide empirical evidence to relate the hunter-gatherer concept to the control of body mass, blood-sugar and cholesterol levels," he says.

But medical opinion remains divided on the subject. Leading charity Diabetes UK says it does not recommend very restrictive diets for those with the condition, but advises people to try to eat a healthy diet with a lot of fruit and vegetables.

It advises that if someone with diabetes is overweight, then losing weight will help them control their condition and also reduce their risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Libby Dowling, a care advisor from Diabetes UK, says: "For people with diabetes healthy eating and regular physical activity are essential for good blood glucose, blood pressure and blood fat control. People with diabetes do not need to follow any specific, restrictive diet though and should instead make sure that they eat a balanced diet which includes lots of fruits and vegetables and is low in fat and salt."

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