This is Part 3 of a 4-part series on Reversing Diabetes Naturally. Here’s a quick summary of the contents of this series:
- Part 1 – It Starts With Food
- Part 2 – Digestion and Diabetes
- Part 3 – Improving Immunity
- Part 4 – Taking Care of Toxins
Today, we’re going to talk about immune function and diabetes, and how immune challenges can cause and worsen blood sugar regulation problems and lead to diabetes, and how improving your immune system can help prevent and reverse diabetes.
Your Immune System
Exposure to pathogens – organisms that can cause disease – is a given in life, and your immune system’s job is to protect you from these outside invaders, by working to prevent them from causing infections in the first place, and then by fighting infections (neutralizing pathogens) once they’ve taken hold.
There are many different types of infection-causing pathogens, the most common of which are bacteria, viruses, fungi (yeasts & molds), and parasites.
Pathogenic infections are often acute and quickly fought off, but they can also become chronic and linger at a low level in the body for months and even years, causing seemingly unrelated symptoms such as fatigue, slow wound healing, and increased inflammation, without causing the overt classic signs that we associate with infection such as fever.
This type of low level, hidden infection is called a latent infection, and can come a wide variety of sources, including:
- exposure to other people with contagious infections
- contaminated food or water, or
- buildings that contain mold
to name a few. Infections can also be caused by overgrowths of organisms inside of us, due to a number of possible factors, including (but not limited to):
- exposure to viruses causing benign organisms within us to become pathogenic (as mentioned above)
- insufficient healthy gut microbes due to stress or overuse of antibiotics or the lack of probiotic foods, or
- a weakened immune system due to exposure to environmental toxins (ex. heavy metals such as mercury and lead, pesticides and herbicides from non-organic foods, chemicals from cleaners, etc., etc.)
In my clinical experience with 1,000s of people over 25+ years, latent infections are an incredibly common phenomenon that is very often at the root of many seemingly unrelated health issues, including blood sugar regulation problems.
Uncovering Hidden Infections
The presence of latent infections can typically be detected with a simple blood test – the complete blood count (CBC) with differential – which is very often done as part of basic bloodwork. The differential part is essential, as it tells us not only the total number of white blood cells (WBCs), but also the number and ratio of 5 different types of white blood cells, which make up the bulk of our immune system: neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils.
When the ratio between neutrophils and lymphocytes (NLR) is less than 1.8 or greater than 2.2, and/or the ratio between monocytes and lymphocytes (MLR) is greater than 2.0, this usually indicates the presence an infection. When the NLR is under 1.8, this typically indicates a viral infection, and when NLR is greater than 2.2, this usually means there’s a bacterial infection.
If there is, at the same time, a chronically low level of WBCs, then this is a likely indicator that the infection has been going on for some time, and is chronic as opposed to being acute. (This is an example of why getting bloodwork done at regular intervals can be incredibly informative and helpful!)
Infections Are Draining
Infections of any type – whether they are bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic, acute or chronic, latent or overt – cause an increased strain on our bodies, and make us more vulnerable to many health issues. When a person already has diabetes, for instance, they are at much higher risk of infections, which then lead to many of the health issues that make diabetes so damaging, including impaired circulation, slow wound healing, impaired vision, loss of kidney function, and much more.
But, perhaps surprisingly, it goes the other way, too – infections are now understood to be one of the primary causes of the onset of diabetes! Multiple types of viruses have been found to damage the beta cells of the pancreas, which then impairs insulin production and leads to loss of proper blood sugar control. Similarly, chronic bacterial infections such as staphylococcus aureus (staph) can lead to many of the conditions that are the hallmarks of diabetes – overweight, insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and system inflammation. And research has found that therapies that eliminate these types of infections can be effective at preventing and reversing diabetes.
I have found this to be true in my clinical experience, too.
Blood Sugar Regulation and Infections
Blood sugar regulation issues come in several forms:
- insulin resistance
- full-blown diabetes
and almost everyone I’ve seen with one or more of these issues also has evidence of underlying, chronic infections.
The good news, though, is that once we clear those infections, strengthen immunity, and support the pancreatic beta cells to heal and regenerate (which they can almost always do, and surprisingly well – our bodies are so amazing!), then blood sugar regulation improves – as does overall health and well-being.
So, once we have determined that there are underlying chronic infections at play, what’s next?
Well, if the infection appears to be bacterial or viral, then we can get right to work clearing it naturally.*
*If it appears to be fungal (common) or parasitic (not as common, at least in the U.S.), or an internal build-up of toxins appears to be a significant issue, then additional testing is often recommended before starting treatment, for proper targeting. And if the following supplements below don’t do the trick, then additional testing is definitely indicated to further elucidate what’s going on “under the hood”.
We have a number of natural tools available to us in our immune strengthening and infection-clearing toolbox. Choosing which one(s) to use, when, and how, is ideally done with the guidance of a knowledgeable holistic practitioner who is familiar with you, your medical history, and your system. My top 5 favorite natural medicines for boosting immunity and clearing infections are:
1. Huang Lian Jie Du Pian
A classic Chinese herbal formula that, when indicated, is my go-to for clearing any and all types of infections, due to its speedy efficacy. As a bonus, it contains Berberine, an anti-microbial that has the added benefit of being proven to be even more effective for blood sugar control than the prescription drug Metformin (this is probably because it is an anti-microbial that is addressing latent infections!). However, it’s contraindicated in many cases, and it is hard to find in an uncontaminated form these days, since most Chinese herbs now come from Asia and usually contain mercury, lead, and a bunch of other unsavory toxins. For this reason, I only use Blue Poppy brand, as every batch is tested for purity, and recommend you do the same for any and all Chinese herbs! If you can’t get this formula, or it’s not right for you, Berberine is a decent second/similar choice.
2. Xiao Chai Hu Tang
Another classic Chinese herbal formula, this is a great choice for those who need help clearing infections but for whom #1 is not a good choice (ex. sensitive stomach, tendency to feel cold, etc.). Xiao Chai Hu Tang is a gentle but effective immune booster, strengthening the immune system’s ability to push pathogens out of the body (aka clear infections), particularly in cases where there has been an ongoing battle with stubborn chronic infections that have been difficult to clear despite repeated efforts (ex. the elevated thyroid antibodies of Hashimoto’s). And because of its gentle nature, unlike #1, it can be taken long term.
3. Vitamin C
Doing several 3-day “vitamin C flushes”, with time in between each one, is a very effective way to clear infections and boost immunity for many people, as long as it is well-tolerated. There are contra-indications, however, including fast digestion/impaired digestive absorption, digestive sensitivity (particularly acid reflux), and a tendency towards accumulation of oxalates, kidney stones, and gout, to name a few, so be sure to have guidance with this from someone knowledgeable who knows your system
4. Vitamin D
Most people do not have sufficient levels of Vitamin D to get all the benefits of this important hormone. And the amount considered “adequate” (30-50 mg/dL) by standard lab measures is woefully low. Studies have found that the full benefit of Vitamin D is not achieved until levels are at or above 80 mg/dL. Since most people’s levels are under 50, and there are zero toxicity issues for most people, boosting your Vitamin D level is an excellent way to not only improve your immunity and clear infections, but also boost your overall health! I like to do a Vitamin D test before beginning supplementation, and then choose the dose and length of treatment accordingly, with follow-up tests every few months to check on progress. If someone’s Vitamin D level is quite low (<30), then a very high dose (50,000 IU/day) of Vitamin D for several weeks can often make an enormous difference for them very quickly. Once the Vitamin D level has been optimized, it tends to hold fairly steady with a maintenance dose, for most people, and then testing 1-2x/year is all that’s needed for ongoing monitoring. Note that for maintenance dosing, Vitamin D should be taken with Vitamin K for effective utilization.
Essential for the proper functioning of the immune system, Zinc is almost always quite low in people with chronic infections, and supplementing is typically very effective for boosting immunity and clearing infections gradually over time. My favorite form is liquic Ionic Zinc (taken in water, with food), as this is almost always well-tolerated and well-absorbed. It is very possible to overdo it with Zinc, though, and end up with toxicity symptoms from it, so again, make sure you have the guidance of a knowledgeable holistic practitioner when supplementing with Zinc.
Alongside or after some immune strengthening and infection-clearing work, a few rounds of probiotics to give a broad-spectrum boost to your community of gut flora is the next order of business. This is because a robust and diverse population of healthy gut bugs (aka the gut microbiome) is an essential part of a strong immune system.
The seven main types of beneficial microbial organisms most often used in probiotic products are:
I like to have people do a rotation through the various types of probiotics, in order to boost their gut population and diversity to get the most benefit from their probiotics. Visit my online pharmacy at Wellevate.me/DrEmilyFranklin to see my 30 Day Probiotic Rotation protocol – this covers 4 of the 7 types of probiotics and is a great place to start boosting your gut microbiome. (When you create an account under my pharmacy, you automatically get a discount on all of the 1000s of products in the Wellevate catalog).
Adding more low-carb non-dairy probiotic foods to the diet, such as homemade cultured veggies, and homemade coconut yogurt, kefir and sour cream, is also a great help for most people, as long as these don’t cause any digestive distress.
Once you’ve done the work of 1) testing for infections, 2) clearing infections and boosting your immune system, and 3) boosting your gut microbiome’s population and diversity, you should be well on your way to reversing (or preventing) diabetes, as well as optimizing your overall health.
Next, in Part 4, the final part in this series on reversing diabetes naturally, we’ll talk about the role of environmental toxins in the development of diabetes, how to tell if this is an issue for you, and what to do about it if it is.