Diet and diabetes treatment: How nutrition impacts patient health


On a basic level, we understand that our lifestyles impact our health. A lifetime of sedentary activities and poor nutrition will inevitably lead to health problems such as adult-onset diabetes. We understand that the opposite is true, as well. A lifetime of measured exercise and healthy eating stave off the effects of entropy on the human body. But what perhaps isn't as well understood - and certainly not in a practical sense - is how a shift in lifestyle can heal the body.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association followed two groups of Type-2 diabetes patients in an effort to answer an important question: Is medication the only way to treat lifestyle-related ailments?

Can lifestyle changes alone treat Type-2 diabetes?

Participants in the study had mean ages of 54 for the males and 47 for the females. All participants had non-insulin-dependent Type-2 diabetes and had lived with the condition for less than 10 years.

One randomized group received standard care, consisting of one-on-one counseling and target-driven medical therapy. The second group received additional lifestyle interventions consisting of five to six weekly aerobic training sessions, resistance training and personalized dietary plans.

After a year, 73 percent of the lifestyle group participants were able to reduce their medication levels. In the standard care group, 26 percent of participants decreased the dosage of their diabetes medication. At the same time, 44 percent of standard group participants increased the dosage of their medication.

This study provides valuable evidence for the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions in the treatment of non-insulin-dependent Type-2 diabetes. Based on this evidence, physicians should consider focusing more resources on lifestyle-related treatments, in addition to medication.

Lifestyle interventions could reduce the need for diabetes management medication.Lifestyle interventions could reduce the need for diabetes management medication.

How could lifestyle interventions impact other common diseases?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 610,000 Americans die from heart disease every year and approximately 735,000 experience a heart attack. Lifestyle and diet are major factors in this health epidemic. Changes to activity levels and nutrition could prevent many of these deaths and, as the study above shows, even reverse the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

There's a body of evidence to support this hypothesis. For example, a meta-analysis of 98 studies showed that lifestyle interventions - such cessation of tobacco consumption and participation in relaxation activities - reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg, on average.

The major issue with lifestyle intervention treatment is a lack of follow through. It's easier to remember to take a pill every day than it is to perform 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Patient engagement strategies such as regular follow up appointments and automated reminders may be able to increase participation levels in lifestyle treatment plans.

Nutrient and physical activities are key to preventing ailments such as adult-onset diabetes and hypertension, but they aren't often an integral part of most treatment plans. Simply encouraging patients to make a change won't necessarily lead to great follow through.

Physicians should consider advanced patient engagement options to track and encourage participation in healthy activities.

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