How to Cure Vitamin D Deficiency

According to my calendar, winter began just a few days ago. But as far as my ability to make vitamin D is concerned, winter actually began in October and will last until the middle of March. If I run short of vitamin D before March, I have three options for getting more vitamin D: take a tropical vacation, go to a tanning salon, or take vitamin D pills.

Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin. It’s a hormone that is made when the ultraviolet light from sunlight hits your skin. Some of the sun’s ultraviolet light gets filtered out by the atmosphere, especially by the ozone layer. Where I live, the sunlight is at such a low angle from October through March that practically all of the ultraviolet light gets filtered out. Thus, we have a tanning index of zero even if there isn’t a cloud in the sky.

A light-skinned person in Boston can get enough vitamin D from getting only a few minutes’ worth of sun exposure on his or her face, arms, and hands at midday two to three times a week during the spring, summer, and fall. A person of African ancestry might need ten times as much sun exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D.

Natural summer sunshine is the best way to get vitamin D. Sunshine may have other important effects on the body besides producing vitamin D. Of course, too much sun exposure can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer.

Sunlamps or a tanning bed can also help restore normal vitamin D levels in the wintertime, especially in people who have an intestinal disease that makes it hard for them to absorb fat-soluble vitamins from their food. Tanning beds should be used cautiously because the ultraviolet light they produce is so intense.

You can also buy vitamin D supplements, but one nutrition expert warns that vitamin pills should be used as a last resort. Although low vitamin D levels have been associated with various diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, treatment with vitamin D supplements has not necessarily been shown to be useful in treating those conditions. 

Peace on Earth, Even Though War Sometimes Cures Diabetes

During the Siege of Paris in 1870, a French pharmacist named Bauchardat noticed that the health of diabetics was improving while everyone else was suffering as a result of food shortages. That’s because the most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, which the French call diabète gras, or fat diabetes. Type 2 diabetes represents the body’s attempts to resist gaining too much weight on a fattening diet. If the weight gain is solved by eating fewer calories, then the type 2 diabetes improves.

World War I provided insight into another way to deal with type 2 diabetes. Even though Denmark was neutral during the war, its grain supply had been cut in half by the Atlantic Blockade. To prevent the grain shortages from causing widespread starvation in Denmark, the Danish government developed a rationing plan. Instead of people feeding the available grain to animals and then eating the animals, the government decreed that most of the food animals should be slaughtered immediately and the grain be fed directly to the people. It also decreed that grain should not be used to make alcohol. The Danes could eat as much bread and potatoes and cabbage as they wanted; but their intake of meats, fats, and alcohol was severely restricted. Not only did this rationing plan prevent starvation, it improved the overall health of the Danish population so much that Denmark enjoyed the lowest recorded death rate in its history.

I don’t know how much of the lower mortality in Denmark during the war was due to a decrease in the rate of diabetes specifically and how much to a lower risk of heart attack or stroke among nondiabetics. All of those diseases result from the same cause, which is a rich, fatty diet. Fortunately, I do have data on how wartime rationing affected the risk of death from diabetes in England and Wales during the first half of the twentieth century.


Notice that the risk of diabetes went up during times of peace and prosperity and dropped like a stone during wartime rationing. It stayed low during the Great Depression, when many people simply couldn’t afford to overeat. The effect of dietary changes was so powerful that it completely obscured the impact of the introduction of insulin therapy in the early 1920s. That’s because the most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, which results from eating a fattening diet. Less than 10% of diabetes cases result from failure of the pancreas to produce insulin.

Low-carb gurus keep telling me that a diet based on grains causes obesity and diabetes. It’s true that the low-carb diets seem to provide some short-term benefit for diabetics. Depriving a person of carbohydrates does make high blood sugar go down immediately, even if makes the diabetes worse in the long run. If the low-carb diet suppresses the person’s appetite enough to cause weight loss, the diabetes could improve. However, this improvement would be due to weight loss, not to eating fat and protein instead of carbohydrates. At the same time, the low-carb diets provide an overload of fat and protein, which is particularly bad for people with diabetes because they are so prone to heart and kidney problems. The heavy load of animal protein in low-carb diets would also promote osteoporosis and cancer, but those problems might not show up immediately.

The low-carb gurus ignore an obvious fact: diabetes and many other chronic diseases are rare in populations that eat a diet that’s heavily based on grains or other starchy staples, such as potatoes. Diabetes is common only in societies that base their diet heavily on animal products. When a population shifts from an animal-based diet to a diet based on grains and other starchy staples, such as potatoes, the rates of obesity and diabetes come tumbling down. Fortunately, there doesn’t have to be a war for people to make this change in diet. It only takes awareness and a new set of recipes.

The good news is that we don’t need to starve ourselves or suffer the horrors of war to cure type 2 diabetes. All we need to do is go ape, go wild, and eat plants. Peace on earth!

Photo by Kylie_Jaxxon

Note: In my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2, I explain why a high-carbohydrate diet is good for people with any kind of diabetes.

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Scientists Rediscover That Starvation Cures Type 2 Diabetes

Yes, you can reverse type 2 diabetes if you starve yourself. In fact, a medically supervised water-only fast can be a useful way to manage many different kinds of diet-related diseases. Fortunately, you do not have to starve yourself to reverse your type 2 diabetes. Instead, you could simply eat a low-fat, plant-based diet—like the populations that don’t get type 2 diabetes to begin with.

In June of 2011, some researchers from Britain published the results of a trial in which people with type 2 diabetes who went on a starvation diet (600 calories per day) ended up with normal fasting blood sugar levels. To me, that is not news. By 1841, a French pharmacist named Apollinaire Bauchardat was recommending that patients with what we now call type 2 diabetes should eat as little as possible and that they should fast occasionally to bring down their blood sugar. Since then, however, diabetes researchers have learned that it’s possible to reverse type 2 diabetes without such severe calorie restriction. In fact, I think that it’s better to teach people the diet that will enable them to cure their type 2 diabetes within a couple of weeks without limiting their food intake than to set them on a course of yo-yo dieting and possible eating disorders.

Bouchardat was one of the first clinicians to put patients in charge of monitoring their own diabetes. At first, his patients did this by keeping track of what they ate and tasting their urine to see how sweet it became. Later, Bauchardat worked out a chemical test to detect sugar in urine. From monitoring the sugar content of the urine, Bauchardat showed that when people with diabetes ate sugars or starches, large amounts of sugar passed into their urine. The sugar in the urine reflected high blood glucose levels. However, the problem in type 2 diabetes is not that the person is eating carbohydrates, it’s that the body has become resistant to the hormone insulin.

Starting in the 1930s, scientists started to realize that fatty diets made the body less sensitive to insulin, and that this insulin insensitivity was the underlying cause of the high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. People who went on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet rapidly became more responsive to insulin.

Starting in the 1940s, Dr. Walter Kempner at Duke University reported astonishing success in reversing type 2 diabetes and diabetic complications with a diet based entirely on rice and fruit. Patients who found that they were losing too much weight on that low-fat diet were encouraged to add pure white sugar to get more calories. In Kempner’s report of 100 patients with diabetes who were fed his high-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-protein diet, most of the patients decreased their insulin doses and many discontinued taking insulin. (It’s likely that some of the patients had type 1 diabetes and therefore would need to keep taking insulin for the rest of their lives.)

The American Diabetes Association currently recommends that people with type 2 diabetes eat limited portions of foods from all of the four food groups. In 2006, however, a clinical trial showed that the people who were randomly assigned to eat as much as they liked of low-fat, unrefined plant foods (75% carbohydrate by calorie) found it easier to stick to their diet, lost more weight, and made faster progress in reversing their diabetes than did the people who were randomly assigned to follow the ADA’s recommendations.

Behind Barbed Wire_PrintNote: In my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2, I explain the relationship between body weight and blood sugar. French doctors have always used the term fat diabetes (diabètes maigre) to refer to the relative mild form of diabetes that occurs in people who are at least a little bit overweight and that goes away if they lose weight. Fat diabetes is the body’s way to avoid storing too much of the fat from a fatty diet. If you have fat diabetes, it means that you are a naturally thin person. It means that your body is willing to sacrifice everything—your feet, your eyesight, your kidneys, and even your life—to keep you from gaining any more weight. The solution to this problem is to switch to a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet. This diet reverses type 2 diabetes and is also good for people with thin diabetes (type 1 diabetes).

Scientists Know that Fatty Diets Cause Blood Sugar Problems

There’s a huge disconnect between what scientists know about diet and what ordinary people are being taught about diet. Most people seem to think that people get diabetes from eating too much sugar or starch. However, the scientists who wrote this article seem to think that it’s common knowledge, at least among scientists, that people get type 2 diabetes from eating too much fat.

Behind Barbed Wire_PrintNote: To learn how fatty diets cause blood sugar problems, read my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2.

Wild Animals Don’t Count Calories or Sign Up for Step Aerobics

Have you ever seen an obese wild animal? Look at these wildebeests in Krüger National Park in South Africa. There’s no cellulite on their thighs! Wildebeest weigh only 40 pounds at birth, but then they gain weight rapidly. By the time they’re a year old, they weigh about 200 pounds. The females reach a peak weight of about 350 pounds at 4 years of age. The males peak at 500 pounds at 5 years of age. Yet after that, their weight stays remarkably stable. Why do they stop gaining weight? Since they don’t start counting calories or taking step aerobics classes in adulthood, they must have some built-in mechanisms that regulate their weight naturally. Do humans also have in-born weight-control mechanisms? If so, why have so many people been getting so fat lately?

To keep our body weight at a normal level, we are told to engage in unnatural behaviors. We’re told to eat less and move more. Yet wild animals never limit their food portions, and they do only the amount of activity they feel like doing. I think that their secret for staying slim is that they eat the kind of food that is appropriate for their species. If you trapped some wildebeest in a pen and fed them a diet that was much richer in calories than what they ate in the wild, they’d probably get fat. That’s what has happened to human beings in industrialized societies. To cure our weight problems, we need to escape from our cubicles and start eating a more natural diet. Go play outside, and eat low-fat unrefined plant foods instead of eating animals and processed foods.


When you look at populations all over the world, you’ll notice that the people who eat a diet based on unrefined plant foods stay naturally slim and remarkably free of heart disease and diabetes and other chronic diseases. For many generations, most of the world’s population ate like that. Only the rich could afford to eat large servings of rich foods, such as meats and butter and honey, on a regular basis. As a result, only rich people suffered from obesity, gout, and atherosclerosis. Because of agricultural policies, those foods have now become cheap while fresh fruit and vegetables are still relatively expensive. As a result, the “diseases of affluence” are now a particular problem for poor people in the United States.

Photo by h.koppdelaney

Behind Barbed Wire_PrintNote: In my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2, you can learn more about how a low-fat, high-fiber, high-carbohydrate diet helps people lose weight and reverses their type 2 diabetes.

Can Hot Chili Peppers Help Prevent Cancer?

Capsaicin, which is the chemical that puts the heat in hot chili peppers, may encourage some kinds of cancer cells to commit suicide; but capsaicin doesn’t seem to have the same effect on healthy cells. This is just one of many ways in which chemicals that are found naturally in plants (phytochemicals) could have an anticancer effect.

Cancer isn’t just one disease. It’s a group of unrelated diseases that all result from the same sort of problem: cells behaving badly. Cancer cells don’t become the kind of cell that they’re supposed to become, and they keep dividing to make new cells long after they were supposed to stop. Sometimes, they travel through the body and settle down in places where they’re not supposed to be. All of these problems result from something going wrong in the cell’s genetic material. Either some genes have been damaged or the switches that are supposed to turn the genes on and off have been stuck in the wrong position. This problem can get started if a cell’s genes are damaged by exposure to radiation or to cancer-causing (carcinogenic) chemicals, such as those in tobacco smoke. The first line of defense against cancer is to reduce the body’s exposure to radiation and other carcinogens.

Even after a cell has gone rogue, the body has several levels of defenses that could stamp out the cancer before it is ever noticed. The first is a self-destruct mechanism that is built into the cell’s genetic instructions. This self-destruction, which is called apoptosis or programmed cell death, causes the cell to break apart into tidy fragments that are quickly and easily devoured by white blood cells. In contrast, when cells die as a result of trauma, they make a mess by spilling their contents into the surrounding fluid.

Programmed cell death plays an important role in sculpting the embryo during early development. If cells are in the wrong place at the wrong time, they get a signal to commit suicide. That’s why most people aren’t born with webbed fingers and toes. Even in a healthy adult, tens of billions of cells undergo programmed cell death every day. Programmed cell death is a natural body process that is supposed to stay in a healthy balance. If too many cells die, the result is tissue shrinkage (atrophy). If too many cells fail to commit suicide, then abnormal cells such as cancer cells can get out of control.

Programmed cell death is a complicated process that can involve several different pathways and that can be stimulated or suppressed by many different signals. However, the end result is always the same: enzymes called caspases are activated, and they break down the protein structures inside the cell. Some kinds of cancer cells fail to undergo programmed cell death because they have a deficiency of or defect in one of their caspases. These cells may need a little extra encouragement to undergo programmed cell death.

Researchers have reported that capsaicin inhibits the growth of colon tumors. Theoretically, capsaicin could have antitumor effects in other parts of the body because it is easily absorbed from the intestine and carried throughout the body by the bloodstream. One study showed that capsaicin promotes programmed cell death in a particular type of liver cancer cells. Another study showed a similar effect in breast cancer cells.

The first line of defense against cancer is to avoid radiation, carcinogenic chemicals, and the viral infections that are known to cause cells to become malignant. The second line of defense is to eat a low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet, which acts in several different ways to prevent cells from becoming malignant and to suppress the growth of tumors. The promotion of programmed cell death by hot peppers is just one of the ways in which a plant-based diet could help to suppress cancer.

Institute of Medicine Questions Scientific Need for Chimpanzee Research

Photo: Chimpanzee being used for space research by the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s.

The Institute of Medicine convened an ad hoc committee to answer two important questions:

  • Is biomedical research with chimpanzees “necessary for research discoveries and to determine the safety and efficacy of new prevention or treatment strategies?”
  • Is behavioral research using chimpanzees “necessary for progress in understanding social, neurological and behavioral factors that influence the development, prevention, or treatment of disease?”

The committee was asked to consider only scientific questions, not questions related to ethics or costs. The committee’s report concluded that most current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is unnecessary and that the National Institutes of Health should put strict limits on the use of chimpanzees as research subjects. The NIH has already announced a freeze on new grants for chimpanzee experimentation.

Some members of Congress want to outlaw all experimentation on great apes, including chimpanzees (H.R. 1513: The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act).

Update: H.R. 1513 was not enacted.

Does Tofurkey Subliminally “Glorify” Meat-Eating?

David Sirota wrote an article that suggests that the vegetarian products that mimic meat products undermine vegetarianism by glorifying the consumption of meat. I had to laugh because I honestly couldn’t imagine Tofurkey glorifying anything. Nor do I think that rice milk glorifies cow’s milk or that a tofu scramble glorifies eggs. Yet the use of these foods does raise two important nutrition-related questions: What kind of diet is truly healthy for a human being, and how can we help people find satisfaction and delight from a truly healthy diet?

Many vegetarians depend heavily on the soy fake meats and “cheezes” because they are worried about getting enough protein in their diet. In reality, you don’t need to eat fake meat or cheeze to get enough protein. It’s practically impossible to find real cases of protein deficiency in people who were getting enough calories from any reasonable plant-based diet. To find cases of pure protein deficiency, you have to look at people who have been fed nothing but glucose intravenously, or people who have a digestive or metabolic disease, or babies who were fed some bizarre substitute for breast milk.

Plants provide all of the nutrients that are essential for human nutrition, except for vitamin D and vitamin B12. Your body makes its own supply of vitamin D if you go out in the sunshine, and vitamin B12 comes from bacteria. So there’s no nutritional need to include animal-based food in the diet. On the contrary, the less animal-based food a population eats, the lower its rates of death from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases tend to be.

So what about the refined plant-based foods that resemble animal foods? Do they pose the same health threats as real animal-based foods? The answer is a bit complicated. The health threats that they could pose depend on how closely they resemble the animal-based foods they replace.

Animal-based foods contain fat and cholesterol but no fiber. No vegan products contain any cholesterol, but some of them do contain a lot of fat and little or no fiber. Thus, they could promote weight gain and high cholesterol levels. Potato chips are vegan; but because of all that fat and salt, they’re almost as bad for you as pork rinds.

Animal-based foods contain far more protein than you need. This excess protein puts a strain on the liver and kidneys. The “high-quality” protein in dairy products, in particular, also causes the liver to release a powerful growth hormone (IGF-1) that promotes the growth of cancers. Huge servings of soy protein also promote the secretion of IGF-1, but to a lesser extent than dairy products do.

The proteins in animal-based foods are similar to but not exactly like the proteins in the human body. If they find their way into the bloodstream before they are completely broken down, they may cause the immune system to produce antibodies that go on to attack the body’s own tissues. A switch to a plant-based diet can dramatically reduce this risk. However, some of the fake animal products are based on wheat gluten, which can cause autoimmune problems in a small percentage of the population. For this reason, people with celiac disease or other wheat sensitivity cannot eat seitan.

Real meats and cheeses are high in fat but devoid of starch. The fake stuff also tends to be high in fat and low in starch. All fats are fattening, and some of the fats from plant sources are particularly powerful promoters of cancer. The plant-based diets that are truly good for human health are high in fiber and starch and low in fat.

Animals have hormones that are very much like our own. When people eat animal foods, they get a dose of these hormones, even if the animals were raised organically. Plants have different hormones. Some plants contain phytoestrogens, which are substances that have some sort of effect on estrogen receptors. However, some of the phytoestrogens are estrogen blockers or weak estrogens that compete with the body’s natural estrogens, thus decreasing the effects that our native estrogen has on our tissues.

Animals absorb toxins from their environment and store them in their fatty tissue. That’s why it’s good to eat “low on the food chain.” The processed fake meats and cheezes are low on the food chain, but you may have to consider what kinds of additives are in them.

Many people advocate the use of the fake meats and cheezes sort of as training wheels to help people adjust to a plant-based diet. My concern with that approach is that these foods can be unsatisfying because they don’t necessarily taste like the real thing. Rather than serving a food that is a dim echo of something else, why not serve something that can stand on its own? Why eat an unsatisfying soy patty when you could eat a genuine bean burrito?

I use a little bit of tofu or soy milk now and then. The “fake meat” that I use extensively is mushrooms and nutritional yeast. I make a garlicky low-fat mushroom gravy and serve it over huge mounds of mashed potatoes. I add either mushrooms or nutritional yeast to hearty stews, and nobody cares that I didn’t use a hambone.Photo by Andrea_Nguyen

How LDL Cholesterol Becomes Atherosclerotic Plaque

Here’s an interesting article about how high levels of LDL cholesterol end up causing atherosclerosis.

The body uses cholesterol for various purposes, and it has a system for transporting cholesterol in the bloodstream. Like fat, cholesterol doesn’t dissolve in water. To transport fat and cholesterol via the bloodstream, the body puts them in packages called lipoproteins. As the name suggests, a lipoprotein contains fatty substances (lipids) as well as some protein.

Not only do fatty substances like cholesterol fail to dissolve in water, they float on top of it. That’s because they are less dense than water. They are also less dense than protein. The lipoprotein particles that are largest and contain the most fat also have the lowest density. The “bad” cholesterol that people talk about is low-density lipoprotein (LDL). These are lipoprotein particles that carry fat and cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. LDL is like a wheelbarrow full of fat and cholesterol traveling from the liver to the rest of the body. In contrast, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) picks up the cholesterol from the tissues and carries it back to the liver. HDL is like a mostly empty wheelbarrow picking up fat and cholesterol and taking it back to the liver.

The article explains that cholesterol is always entering and leaving the intimal layer of the arterial wall. The cholesterol is brought in by LDL and is taken away by HDL. If the cholesterol is brought in faster than it leaves, it builds up to form a deposit called an atheroma. The more LDL there is in the bloodstream, the faster the LDL particles enter the wall of the arteries. The cholesterol is likely to build up into an atheroma if there isn’t enough HDL to carry the cholesterol back out fast enough or if the LDL undergoes some chemical change within the wall of the artery before it can be removed. Here’s an article that explains the kinds of chemical changes that can occur to the LDL while its inside the arterial wall.

Why does cholesterol build up in the intima of the arterial wall but not in other kinds of tissue? It’s because the concentration of LDL is far higher in the arterial intima than in any other tissue. The probable reason for this high LDL concentration is the fact that the arterial intima is not drained by lymph vessels. LDL particles are small enough to leak through the gaps between the endothelial cells that pave the inner surface of the artery. Then, they can diffuse throughout the loose structure of the arterial intima. However, they are too big to leak through the pores in the carbohydrate-and-protein meshwork of the medial layer. Thus, they cannot make their way through to the lymphatic system, which is highly efficient at carrying lipoproteins back to the bloodstream.
Photo by Oregon State University

To Protect Your Feet, Cure Your Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is the number 1 cause of nontraumatic amputations in the United States. What’s truly outrageous is that most of these amputations are happening to people with the form of diabetes that can easily be cured, sometimes within as little as a week, by a simple change in diet. Just eat unrefined plant foods instead of animal-based foods and processed foods and cut your fat intake to 10% or less of calories.

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is cured by removing the cause, which is the fatty, low-fiber, standard American diet. People who switch to a high-fiber, low-fat (~10% of calories), high-carbohydrate (75% of calories), purely plant-based (vegan) diet become undiabetic within a surprisingly short time. (They can get even quicker results if they also start exercising.) A proper diet can even relieve the agonizing pain and dangerous numbness from diabetic neuropathy in the feet within a matter of days to weeks.