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Does Saturated Fat Cause Diabetes?

The University of California Davis Integrative Medicine center works to prevent chronic disease by educating patients about how to make positive changes in lifestyle habits. They address nutrition, exercise, stress management and smoking cessation, but their primary emphasis is nutrition and plant-based diets. They focus on preventing, halting, or reversing lifestyle diseases such obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Under the founding director, Dr. Rosane Oliveira, Integrative Medicine has produced The Ultimate Guide to Saturated Fats. With regard to type 2 diabetes, the guide states:

Once we control for weight, alcohol, smoking, exercise and family history, the incidence of diabetes is significantly associated with the proportion of saturated fat in our blood.

You undoubtedly know about the relationship between diet and type 2 diabetes, but you probably think over-consumption of sugar and simple carbohydrates is the only culprit. However, Dr. Oliveira emphasizes the role of saturated fat in insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is the underlying condition for both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Insulin is the hormone that allows glucose in your bloodstream to enter the muscle cells. When your body resists insulin, blood sugar levels rise. Dr. Oliviera says insulin resistance is caused by a buildup of fat inside muscle cells, which caauses toxic fatty breakdown products and free radicals to interfere with the insulin-signally mechanism. She says insulin resistance can happen in as little as three hours after eating saturated fat.

She describes what she calls “twin vicious cycles.” During the early stages of insulin resistance, the pancreas produces increasing levels of insulin in an attempt to overcome the resistance in the muscles. As insulin levels rise, fat in the liver accumulates (fatty liver disease), and your liver becomes insulin resistant.

If your liver is insulin resistant, it continually pumps out blood sugar above and beyond what you eat. The pancreas then floods your body with every more glucose, and more fat accumulates in the liver. This is the first vicious cycle: Fatty muscle cells cause fatty liver, and the system spins into a downward spiral.

Then, trying to repair the imbalance, the fatty liver attempts to dump the excess fat back into the blood, and that fat goes to the cells of the pancreas. Insulin production slows and stops. That is the second vicious cycle. On one side is insulin resistance; on the other is a failing pancreas. The result is type 2 diabetes.

Not all fat causes this problem. Saturated fat, found mostly in animal-based diets, is the cause. Plant-based monounsaturated fats, such as those from nuts, olives, avocados and coconut oil, may actually improve insulin resistance.

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