On the Insulin Crisis

On September 9th, USA Today published an article regarding the insulin crisis: in short, the price of insulin has gone through the roof, and, owing to the proliferation of high-deductible insurance plans, many people are having to pay for it out-of-pocket. According to the article, 57% of people using insulin are having to pay the full price at least some of the time. Since the prices of some kinds of insulin have risen nearly 700% — from $44 to $300 — since the beginning of the century, the burden is immense. People are relying on samples, using expired insulin, going over the border to Canada to buy at their prices.

I would like to suggest another option: Stop eating carbs.

Dr. Eric Westman, the preeminent researcher on the use of ketogenic diets to treat diabetes and founder and president of HEAL Diabetes and Medical Weight Loss Clinics *, drastically reduces his diabetic patients’ medications, including insulin, from their first day of eating a ketogenic diet. The vast majority end up with normal — not “controlled” but normal — blood sugar using no medication at all. Many reach this point within weeks. Imagine the effect on the price of insulin were the demand to plummet to near-zero!

90-95% of diabetics in the USA are type II diabetics; they have pancreases that function after a fashion but are so insulin resistant that they often need supplemental insulin to clear the damaging sugar from their bloodstreams. These are the people who very likely can normalize their blood sugar through a ketogenic diet alone.

The remaining 5-10% are type I diabetics, completely lacking the ability to make insulin. These people will still need exogenous insulin. However, insulin dosages are predicated on the quantity of carbohydrate eaten. When type I diabetics stop eating carbs, their need for insulin is drastically reduced — indeed, it is imperative that their dosages be slashed, or they face potentially life-threatening hypoglycemia.

That said, type I diabetics can not only dramatically reduce their need for insulin, but reduce their risk of diabetic complications, by shifting to a ketogenic diet. Indeed, until the use of insulin as a medication was pioneered in 1922, a super-low-carb diet was a diabetic’s only hope for even short-term survival.

Back when I self-published my first book, I did a book-signing at the local Borders. Afterward, a young man of 15 named Danny O’Neill came up to me and told me he was there for his father, Dr. Martin O’Neill. Dr. O’Neill, it turned out, was a cardiothoracic surgeon who put all of his bypass patients on the Atkins Diet. Twenty years ago or so, this struck the other cardiologists at the hospital as terrifyingly insane, so they were flummoxed when the rogue physician’s patients did so much better than theirs.

It turned out that Dr. O’Neill had learned about low carbohydrate diets because his son, Danny, was a type I diabetic. They’d discovered shortly after Danny’s diagnosis that his blood sugar was far easier to control, and that he had far fewer complications, if he simply did not eat carbs. I ran into Danny nearly a decade later. He had still avoided all diabetic complications.

BIG, HONKING WARNING: IF YOU ARE DIABETIC, TYPE I OR TYPE II, YOU MUST BE UNDER A DOCTOR’S SUPERVISION AS YOU TRANSITION TO A KETOGENIC DIET. Your medication must be drastically reduced from Day One, your blood sugar closely monitored, and your medication adjusted accordingly. Do not fly blind.

But the fact remains that the rising price of insulin in specific and of health care in general could be drastically reined in by the simple expedient of people quitting eating carbs.

Which is, I suspect, why so many magazines aimed at diabetics — and subsidized by pharmaceutical companies — push “healthy” carbs: They know their profits depend on people continuing to eat carbage.

* Full Disclosure: I both work with and am an investor in HEAL Clinics. I also consider Eric Westman a friend.