OK, so maybe not the cause of ALL illness, but I would argue that this problem is the root of the majority of the chronic diseases that afflict humans and domesticated animals alike in our modern society. What one factor could cause such widespread health problems? And if it’s so pervasive, why isn’t more being done about it?
Just in the last year alone, I’ve had four cats brought into my clinic diagnosed with diabetes. Three of these cats were on insulin injections to control their blood sugar level. Within six months of their initial visits, all four cats were free of diabetes. I saw a 10-year-old Beagle that had been diagnosed with early Cushings syndrome, a disease in which the adrenal glands produce excess cortisol. Three months later, the condition was resolved. A client’s quarter horse had been having recurrent episodes of laminitis, a painful and potentially crippling disorder of horse’s feet. Six months later, the horse was completely sound with no hoof problems.
The one common treatment in all these cases: A drastic reduction in the percentage of carbohydrates in the animals’ diets. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, but it’s not always easy. Most commercial pet foods that are commonly available are quite high in such carbohydrates as rice, corn and potatoes. Much of the fresh green pastures that horses graze on are actually too high in sugar. And certainly much of the foods that we humans love to eat are high in carbs. But who wants to give up their pizza and beer?
All grains and starches consumed by humans and animals turn into sugar in the body very quickly. Once these sugars enter the bloodstream, insulin is released from the pancreas to get the sugar into the body’s cells for fuel. This is all well and good, but with prolonged elevations in blood sugars resulting from diets too high in carbs, cells start to get overloaded. Many of the cells in the body protect themselves by making it harder to absorb glucose. This is what is known as insulin resistance (IR). Other types of cells are unable to resist the effects of insulin, and become toxic from the sugar overload. The exact mechanisms are not completely understood, but the adverse health effects of long-standing IR are insidious and widespread. The resulting condition is one of chronic inflammation and toxicity.
Obesity, and all its related health problems, is one common result of long-standing insulin resistance, but not all individuals with IR are overweight. Other results are type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and are epidemic in modern human populations. Many of the chronic, recurring diseases that I see in my patients such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, skin allergies, ear infections, feline urinary tract disease and even cancer are caused in part by IR. This is why I discuss nutrition a length with my clients.
This also explains the trend toward no-grain and low-carb diets in commercial pet foods. Informed horse owners know to limit their animals’ access to grass pasture at certain times of the year, and have eliminated the practice of feeding grain-based “sweet feed.”
Exercise is another large factor in factor in IR, but is a topic for another article. Suffice it to say that the importance of adequate exercise for animals and humans alike should be clear to anyone with even most basic understanding of health. It’s also clear that prevention and management of disease through nutrition is generally preferable to treating the symptoms of disease with pharmaceutical drugs. Modern medicine’s focus on drugs and surgery is one of the reasons nutrition is not appreciated more in our society. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician knew more than most of his modern counterparts when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Published in The Jacksonville Review.