Our Children With Type 1 Diabetes: Causes, Solutions, and a New Prognosis: Part 1
By Carla Atherton, Director of The Healthy Family Formula
A New Way to Approach Type 1 Diabetes
My daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in February 2012. I am reluctant to talk about this event as if it is the only defining moment in my life, and I certainly do not want to make my glorious, fierce daughter into a diabetes poster child, but the fact is that that turn of events changed the life course of everyone in our family. The ripple went wide.
Gone were the carefree days of eating at potlucks and picnics, going out for ice cream, sleeping well and deeply at night taking for granted that everyone will wake up in the morning alive and relatively happy. Here came the days of tests and finger pricks and needles, of frustrating doctor’s visits, of fear that was so stealthy, so quietly present, that it would coolly walk into my mind like a ghost long after I thought it was gone.
On that first day, my husband cried in the hospital kitchen asking me: “why couldn’t it have been me?” as if it worked like that, as if it was his fault or as if he could take it from her.
My daughter stated to me from her hospital bed: “I am going to have this for the rest of my life,” like she just knew, like some kind of wisdom came over her, and she understood what it all meant.
Me? I got busy, as I always do. I took charge and arrived at the hospital the next day with a pot of homemade soup determined to make her well.
But both my daughter and husband saw something I did not. They saw what I knew we could not focus on at the time or we would not get through. The very long road we had ahead.
Everyone has their own life and health journey, and it is in the process that we learn the most, where the permanence and nourishment those lessons provide really stick to our ribs, really become part of us, how we live, who we are, or more accurately, who we are becoming. But had I been raised in a culture and family who understood and employed a holistic, preventative, sustainable, non-medicalized view of health, the road would not have been so long or as painful, frustrating, or lonely. Had our culture discouraged using a pill for an ill and quick fixes, and handing out diagnosis as life sentences, more people like us, gobsmacked in the hospital with a whole lot of unanswered questions, would have felt more empowered to act, to make change, to truly make the best of a difficult situation.
Instinctually, I knew that what we were being offered was not good enough. And when I looked, like I mean really dug in, I found ways to help my kiddo, and ultimately, all of us. This took a shift from reactionary medicine into a health paradigm where we care for and respect our bodies, minds, families, social networks, and environments AND when trouble arises, look for the root causes of what went wrong in the first place. Why? Not to lay blame or live in regret, but so we can then use the many tools at our disposal to plug the holes, seal the cracks, and put out the fires.
It took years of tenaciously questioning, searching, researching, and seeking to get even close to understanding the answers to the questions “what happened to my daughter?” and “what can we do about this?” I had to learn about the true causes of illness and the keys to health recovery, all of which I will share with you in this article, because if I can help it, your road doesn’t have to be so long or lonely, either.
Defining Our Goals
I always knew what my goals were in this journey, even when I wasn’t able to put them into the words and terms I am able to now. I knew that I wanted to transcend the diagnosis and do all I could to reverse it. And I knew from the start with what we were being taught in the hospital that that was not the place I would find the information or support that I needed.
When I work with families on any of their chronic conditions, I always ask them what their goals are. Not everyone’s will be the same as mine, but most of the time, they are. For you, do you want to learn how to cope with the trials and tribulations of caring for a child with chronic illness? To help your child to cope? Do you aim to help your child to have better blood sugar levels? Or do you want to go deeper into what caused your child to develop diabetes in the first place? Are you looking for strategies and solutions that have not been offered to you elsewhere? Are you interested in exploring things you can do yourself at home to improve your child’s general health, elevate their mood, or enable them to simply “do life?” Are you concerned about their future health, interested in the prevention of future health complications? Are you looking for improvement or are you looking for a straight-up cure?
Once parents are aware of the possibilities, the real possibilities, not the limitations, most of them say: “all of the above.” When we are running this marathon at a sprinters pace, we need to remember that each goal is relevant and achievable under differing circumstances. Sometimes we are trucking along with great bloodsugars and are ready for the next step of reducing insulin or looking into tissue repair methods, and other times we are tired and weary and just need to get through a tough day. So, although our immediate goals will change from day to day, our overall focus is the best health we can help our children to achieve. And despite our modern conventional, limited, medicalized view of health, I set my bar pretty high.
It is very important to differentiate between the different types of diabetes, and I don’t mean just between Type 1 and Type 2. Determining the type of diabetes your child has will enable you to fine-tune their care and therapeutic/lifestyle approaches.
Proper diagnosis is extremely important, not so that we can put a label to a disorder and call it done, but so that we have a place to start, so that we know what treatments and strategies we need to employ, so that we know what is possible and work toward those goals. Misdiagnosis or when details that take your child out of a certain category or are ignored or explained away with made-up, ill-understood, or inaccurately-named phenomenons such as “prolonged honeymoon period” (insinuating that it is all downhill from here), rob us of a chance for further investigation and subsequent discovery of options. This functional approach requires precision medicine and a focus not on a typical child with diabetes (which there are none), but your child.
If we understand that the body is a complex system of interconnected parts and processes that are profoundly affected by the environment we expose ourselves to, it becomes quite plausible that there may even be more types of diabetes with differing causes. But it isn’t necessarily the name that will give us insight, it is the set of underlying causes and what is actually going on under the hood for each individual child that is vitally important.
Diabetes is not simply one disease but a cluster of conditions that cause the same result: high blood glucose levels and an inability of the body to control these levels without either medications or insulin therapy. Your child can experience a combination of Type 1 and Insulin Resistance, called Type 1.5 Diabetes, can have slow-progression diabetes or even start with Type 1 Diabetes then develop Type 1.5 or vice versa, can experience the complication of Brittle Diabetes, can experience comorbidities that can further complicate care and require adjustments to healing plans, can have causal factors ranging from infection to toxicity to food reactivity (which we will discuss later), or have other forms of diabetes that I in this lecture or the scientific community at large has yet to define.
Diabetes is the result of a complex set of factors such as health history, environment, genetic susceptibility (which is by no means predictive destiny), and a myriad of triggers, but if these factors can be untangled and root causes unearthed, we have the exciting opportunity to exponentially elevate the health of our children with diabetes or even aim for possible disease reversal.
Type 1 is considered to be irreversible by many in conventional medicine, functional medicine, and complementary medicine, but although it is not the norm, individuals have had success with reversal and recovery. I would postulate that this is because the focus has been on symptom management and “cures” and not on addressing root causes and employing precision and personal diagnostics and strategies. The medical profession is not looking at reversal or recovery because they think Type 1 is a done deal, but might I suggest something revolutionary here: when they do look (and even that first step doesn’t always happen), might they be looking in the wrong places?
Medical Approaches to Type 1 Management
Our current conventional approach to Type 1 management has been decent in some general respects but often not thorough enough. When my own daughter was diagnosed, the dietician asked her how many carbs she wanted to eat per meal (as if an 11-year-old could make that decision) and what she wanted to eat, then calculated the carb count and the amount of insulin she would need to bolus in order to cover these carbs. She gave us pamphlets that reported the carbs in mini donuts and fast-food burgers and fries, you know, kid food, right?
Well, we weren’t eating all that much of that food at that time, anyway, and the whole thing seemed back-asswards even to me, a mom who grew up in the 80s on Kraft Dinner and Kool Aid simply trying to feed her children a little better than many in her own generation were fed, but was by no means a diabetes or nutrition specialist. The dietician seemed to be in Lalaland, not wanting to disrupt our daughter’s life with big life changes or deprivation of the things she assumed were comforting or familiar to her like junk food and soda pop. No discussion or education about food reactivity, root causes, autoimmunity, testing, infection, sleep, rest, exercise, emotional health, stress reduction. Only carbs in, insulin in. Done and done.
Well, I hated to break it to her, but nothing about having diabetes is normal, and once your child has diabetes, everything changes. No cookie or candy is going to change that. In fact, those things will cause more suffering and a lifetime of worsening health. I am horrified to know that 7 years later, this same pediatric diabetes team is teaching the same things to every single child who is diagnosed with diabetes within a 300 mile radius of our home city. That would mean that hundreds of families are given the same flawed, 50-year old information, and many come away with the thought, “is that all there is for my child?”
My answer, of course, is no. Heck, no.
Now, the changes diabetes can catalyze are not all bad, they just are. The whole family might decide to eat better and exercise more and look deeper into family routines and relationships. But the worry, the stress, the routine are constant, and playing the numbers game will not be enough to alleviate those challenges.
I know that the doctors, nurses, and nutritionists we have seen since that first encounter and the thousands of others working in healthcare systems all over the world all mean well and think they are doing all they can to make the blow of diabetes softer for kids, but we need better. We need better and more progressive education for healthcare providers, and parents empowered with information with a good handle on a more powerful, holistic approach to diabetes in order to optimize their health.
Not everyone here will have had this experience, but if you are like almost every single parent who I have worked with or met personally who has a child with diabetes, you have been given the same advice: to simply match insulin to carbs; let kids be kids; that highs are not that big of a deal for kids. They don’t want to scare parents who already worry mostly all day, every day (and night), while not offering any options for recovery. I think that knowing there is better for your child and not having options is scarier than the truth. To not have the information or withhold it in order to be “nice and gentle” is not progressive or doing us parents or our children any favours, and ultimately robs parents of the empowerment they can garner from knowing the causes–the realities and consequences of poor or wishy-washy management–and from all of the healing that can come with that empowerment. I don’t know about you, but I was not interested in being handled with kid gloves. I wanted someone with knowledge to help guide us through this unknown territory. Everything changes with a diagnosis, but it is what we do about it and because of it that determines our children’s fates.
That said, let’s start to talk about ways we can move beyond simply counting carbs and playing the numbers game.
Beyond The Numbers Game
Even though parents are often told that eating McDonalds or Fruit Loops is fine for their child and that they simply need to give them enough insulin to cover the carbs, we all know that lifestyle approaches are almost always a component in managing any chronic illness, no matter if you are an adult or a child.
Now, although I just said that treating and managing diabetes is not solely a numbers game, there is definitely the need to match carbohydrate intake with bolused insulin and to have a steady supply of basal insulin to cover the body’s constant stream of metabolic processes. Of course our children with Type 1 Diabetes need Insulin Therapy. This is an essential and life-saving therapy.
But Insulin Therapy is not the only thing our children need. Employing a whole system of wellness is most effective. So, I am going to go through a few of these systems, or better labeled, lifestyle approaches. All of the following lifestyle approaches focus on lowering blood sugar with less insulin, bloodsugar stabilization, reducing risk of further disease progression and complications, and reducing the incidence of comorbidities; all include elements of a holistic approach to wellness and general healthful living. This seems basic and a no-brainer, to live healthfully, but there are debates over which approach is best, and often the simple basics are missed as we medicalize our health and rely on the medical profession to save or heal us.
A Functional Approach
Although we want to help our children to manage diabetes, we also want to help them transcend the diagnosis through a functional approach which will give them a better chance at healing. I keep referring to the concept of functional health. What do I mean by that?
Functional medicine is a revolutionary approach to health that is holistic, thorough, and personalized, and focused on root cause resolution.
“The Functional Medicine model is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. It requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes.
By addressing root cause, rather than symptoms, practitioners become oriented to identifying the complexity of disease. They may find one condition has many different causes and, likewise, one cause may result in many different conditions. As a result, Functional Medicine treatment targets the specific manifestations of disease in each individual.” (taken from the IFM website: https://www.ifm.org/functional-medicine/)
Through functional medicine practices and testing, you can:
-find the root cause of your child’s diabetes
-have the chance to reduce or eliminate risk of further disease progression and complications
-have the chance to reduce or eliminate risk of developing co-morbidities
-have a better relationship with your healthcare practitioners and chose the ones that will work with you in a manner that works for you
-optimize your child’s health through your own efforts
-explore the possibility of complete disease reversal
Without breaching her privacy, a colleague of mine and esteemed functional medicine doctor reversed her own Type 1 Diabetes (LADA) doing what most conventional doctors could not or did not do: by addressing the root causes of her illness, namely the main stressors that taxed and stressed her immune system. In her case, her major stressor was exposure to toxic mold. Mold you say?! What does mold have to do with Type 1 Diabetes? This doctor practiced all of the sound strategies we will discuss in this article, and once she dealt with the underlying cause(s) of the diabetes, was she able to reverse it.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone will reverse Type 1 Diabetes. Although there is always a reason for the onset of Type 1 Diabetes (and most often more than one), we are not always able to uncover what those reasons are or rectify them. But with every bit of information we can gather and with every effort made to live a life conducive to good health, if the right questions are asked and the right answers are found, recovery is entirely possible.
END OF PART 1
photo credit from Parents Magazine Online: https://www.parents.com/health/diabetes/a-cool-new-tool/
Carla Atherton, MA, FDN-P, Family Health Coach, is the director of The Healthy Family Formula, host of The Children’s and Teen Health Summit, author of the forthcoming book Family Health Revolution (release date: March 15th. 2019), editor, book junkie, research geek, insatiably curious mother of three grown (son age 20), almost grown (daughter age 18), and growing (daughter age 15) children, one of whom has Type 1 Diabetes. Carla lives on an acreage in rural Saskatchewan, Canada, where she works from a home office with families from all over the world on the reversal of conditions such as, Autoimmunity: Type 1 Diabetes, PANDAS/PANS/Autoimmune Encephalitis, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity; Asthma, Allergies, Eczema, and Reactivity; ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Learning Disabilities; Depression, Anxiety, Mental Health Disorders, Eating Disorders, ODD; Other Neurological Conditions; Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and Metabolic Disorders; Untangling Mystery Symptoms, Complex Cases, and Co-Morbidities (having more than one condition); Mold Illness; Multiple Chemical Sensitivity; Lyme; Other Infection; and Addictions. Carla is on a revolutionary mission to empower families to transcend our new normal of ill health and chronic disease.
For more information or help with your own family’s health journey, read more on this website, contact Carla, schedule a complimentary Meet and Greet with Carla, or learn about her Practitioner Training Programs for professionals and educational online Weekend Workshops for parents.
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