Do Paleo, Low Carb or Ketogenic Diets Cure Type 1 Diabetes

Big Beautiful Beta Cell!

6 weeks ago my 10 year old son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  He has had all the tests including A1C, C-Peptide and autoimmune markers tested and he is positive in every way on every test.  Due to my own experiments with Paleo and Keto, I’m very familiar with the function of insulin and have read multiple stories about how people have ‘cured’ their diabetes with reduced carb diets and by eliminating gluten. Many, if not most of these stories are about Type 2 diabetics who have taxed their pancreases with a lifetime of high carb eating … and have recovered pancreas function and more importantly insulin sensitivity by giving their bodies a break from carbs.  This is NOT the story of Type 1 diabetes!

Type 1 diabetics have either reduced pancreas Beta Cell numbers or virtually no Beta Cells.  This is caused by an autoimmune response to something … possibly gluten, possibly some other virus and in other cases some unknown factor or event.  In my sons case, we suspect a virus that went through our family that knocked us down for 6 or 7 days each with severe stomach upset, slight fever, etc.  about 4 months before his early diagnosis.  Once the bodies insulin-autoreactive T-Cells begin to attack the pancreas, they never seem to stop until the job is finished.  Ok … this is where we pick up the stories of Type 1 diabetes reversal.

1st let me quote Diane Sanfilippo from her book Practical Paleo , page 67:

While most Type 1 Diabetics cannot regain any beta cell function, if detected early enough and a strictly grain-free diet is adopted, some may be able to reverse the condition. [bold mine]

[NOTE: Diane’s book Practical Paleo is otherwise an excellent book with a lot of good information on Paleo and some great recipes.]

I contacted her to ask for evidence to support her claim of possible reversal. She pointed me to Robb Wolf and his blog Now I had already read some of the stories there of people who claim to have reversed Type 1 Diabetes … but they were just that: stories. No evidence. They had little to no understanding of the honeymoon period and certainly no science to support the claims. Does the theory that going gluten free might slow or halt the destruction of Beta cells make sense? Sure, but that is why I ask for science … because stories from parents are not science … they are anecdotes and unless there are a LOT of them, they are virtually useless to put out there.  She tells me, ‘you won’t find scientific studies on a paleo diet and T1 in this way.’  But then I have to ask, if all you have are a few stories of maybe something that might have happened with T1D kids and a change in diet … why suggest that we ‘may be able to reverse the condition’? To a parent who is in the shock of finding out their child has a lifetime disease, reading this gives them hope … but its based on NOTHING! Even a few more sentences in her book stating that there is NO science to back up this theory … and that there is NO evidence of anyone ever ‘reversing’ Type 1 Diabetes, but that a FEW parents have reported favorable results with a Paleo diet would put this claim into perspective.

The more I write here, the more angry I’m becoming … all these ‘experts’ making claims, but NOTHING coming of those claims. You would think that some of these people might set up their own study, sure maybe not a total peer reviewed job, but ‘lets take 20 people with Type 1 Diabetes and lets ‘reverse’ it!’ Then you would have something to claim. But to put a statement like that in a published book based on a couple of reader emails on someone else’s website is seriously irresponsible.  [EDIT.  Had a fairly extensive discussion on Twitter with Diane Sanfilippo (@balancedbites) and Robb Wolf (@robbwolf) after this post. I think they understand my frustration and Diane says, ‘I will revisit the text when I can next edit it. It was three years ago that I wrote it. Thanks.’ Maybe in the mean time others will do some further work and testing on their theory to see exactly what can be expected from diet change in the treatment of T1D.]

Ok – got that off my mind.

Back to Paleo and Type 1 Diabetes.  I think there are huge advantages to changing diet to a mid to low carb to control blood glucose.  For those people (mostly kids) in their ‘honeymoon’ period, this might mean the elimination of the need for insulin injections … for a period of time.  If you are gluten sensitive, it might be possible to slow or I can even imagine halting the continuation of insulin-autoreactive T cell production with the reduction of inflammation in the the body.  (I’m guessing on this based on what makes sense about the Paleo diet.)  I don’t see ANY scientific evidence of Beta cells ever regenerating in the pancreas.  So once they are dead, they are dead as far as I can tell.  If you have Beta’s left that can still produce insulin, you may be able to control your diabetes with diet as long as those cells are producing enough insulin.  However, it won’t last forever … and virtually EVERY SINGLE Type 1 Diabetic sees an end to their ‘honeymoon’ period at some point.  For some it is a couple of weeks, for others a couple of years, but they all end and they all go back on insulin eventually.

My son is not terribly interested in having me ‘experiment’ on him (his words … lol.)  And he’s probably been through enough over the past 6 weeks, so any changes we make will be done subtly and slowly so he has time to see results before he recognizes the changes we are making.  Will start by reducing or eliminating gluten in his diet … and see where that takes us first.

Would love to hear any thoughts or experiences others have had with Type 1 diabetes … it’s a lonely path for the parents.

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