In Part 1, we discussed the long-standing history of diabetes (also called “diabetes mellitis”) and the main types of diabetes. We also described the symptoms and signs of diabetes, including those that led me to diagnose it in my own son when he was 8 years old. Finally, we introduced two major glucose-related emergencies: Hypoglycemia and Diabetic Ketoacidosis. For Part 1 of “Diabetes in Survival Settings”, click this link:
Preventing Type 1 Diabetes
This article (Part 2 of a series) will discuss methods of prevention Type 1 diabetes in grid-down circumstances. It should be noted that cases of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have been increasing globally for decades, with some areas of Northern Europe showing 5-6 times the number reported 60-70 years ago. Therefore, there is the likelihood that someone with a form of the disease will be among those for which you, survival medic, will be responsible.
I should tell you that this was originally going to be a 2-part series, but I found a lot more information that I felt I should pass on to you, so there will be more installments. Some of this is uncharted territory. You may disagree what I have to say; if so, I respectfully ask you to take a number and form a line to the right.
Can you do anything to prevent Type 1 (formerly known as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent) diabetes? This condition is caused by a process in which a person’s own immune system (in the form of “auto-antibodies”) attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin (“beta cells”). Interestingly, the body may view insulin itself as a foreign substance. This type of reaction is referred to as “autoimmune”. Without living beta cells, there is no insulin produced, leading to signs and symptoms of diabetes.
Autoimmune Response and Type I Diabetes
What triggers this autoimmune response? It could be purely genetic, yet only 33% of identical twins both have Type 1 diabetes. Various other factors have been suggested, including:
- · Viral infections
- · Early exposure to toxins
- · Early physical/emotional stress
- · Vitamin deficiency
- · Early cessation of breastfeeding
- · Gluten sensitivity
Insulin deficiency usually results in full blown diabetes by the age of 13 years or so (there are exceptions), but a pre-diabetic state can be identified where there exists evidence of autoantibodies; this test identifies those who are likely to get Type 1 diabetes as early as 6-12 months of age, perhaps earlier. Research is ongoing to determine strategies that may prevent or slow down the destruction of pancreatic cells and, thus, the onset of Type 1 diabetes.
Yet, I haven’t answered the question “Can you prevent Type 1 diabetes?”. The conventional wisdom says no. However, let’s look at some of the above-listed factors that may trigger the autoimmune response, and see if we can formulate a strategy.
Viral Infections: Type 1 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed during winter, when viral infections are more frequent. Some viruses have been shown to causes diabetes in lab animals, but this has not been shown conclusively in humans. Several viruses have been implicated:
- · Rubella (German Measles)
- · Mumps
- · Coxsackie B
- · Enterovirus
- · Cytomegalovirus
- · Adenovirus
These viruses may trigger autoimmune responses against the pancreas. Cytomegalovirus, for example, may directly damage or inflame the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Some patients are diagnosed soon after recovery from an infection; others have a history of their mother having Rubella, for instance, while she was carrying them. Could strict anti-viral precautions in your survival retreat decrease the risk of type 1 diabetes? Perhaps, but this might not apply to all “infections”. Having certain bacteria in your gut may actually be protective against type 1 diabetes.
Breast feeding: Children who are exclusively breastfed may have some protection from type 1 diabetes, according to a Swedish study. This was especially true if:
- · Breastfeeding occurred exclusively for more than 5 months.
- · Breastfeeding lasted more than 7-9 months.
- · Substituting other foods was started later than the 7th month.
Although some other studies have not shown the same results, breastfeeding has many other benefits and is an excellent strategy for any post-SHTF mother. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months before slowly introducing new foods. Including breast milk in your baby’s diet for the first 2 years is a good idea. If breast milk is not available, using non-cow’s milk formula may also be helpful in decreasing the incidence of type 1 diabetes. Cow’s milk contains bovine insulin, which may trigger the autoimmune reaction against the pancreas.
Vitamin D deficiency: Vitamin D has long been recognized for its role in bone and mineral metabolism, and breast milk doesn’t have enough of it. Vitamin D plays a role in controlling immune response, and studies on certain lab animals show a preventative effect. Giving a vitamin D supplement (200 and 1,000 IU/day) to infants may, therefore, be useful in decreasing or delaying Type 1 diabetes. Consider a supply of it for your medical storage.
Toxins: The problem with many of the studies quoted above is their inability to determine the effect of environmental pollutants or toxins. The effect of plastic toxins from baby bottles is one possibility; mercury is another. Along with a lot of love, breastfeeding provides a lot of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), chemical contaminants that it is almost impossible to avoid. The POPs most associated with Type 1 diabetes include the dioxins HpCDD and OCDD, DDE, PCB-153, oxychlordane, and trans-nonachlor. These are ingredients in pesticides found commonly in the diet of breastfeeding mothers. Their effect on Type 1 diabetes is still in question, but maintaining as organic an environment as possible is a very good strategy.
Gluten Intolerance: Some studies suggest that sensitivity to wheat, barley, rye, and other products may cause autoimmune reactions and, thus, play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. Although by no means conclusive, there are benefits to avoiding gluten products whenever possible.
In Part 3 of this series, we’ll discuss prevention strategies for type 2 (formerly known as adult-onset or non-insulin dependent) diabetes. In Part 4, we’ll explore options for treatment of both type 1 and type 2 forms of the disease.
Joe Alton, M.D. aka Dr. Bones
Some references for this article were:
Are you ready to deal with medical issues in times of trouble? With the 4th Edition of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” in your survival library, you’ll get a head start on keeping it together, even if things fall apart.