You might be surprised at some of the benefits of low-carbohydrate diets.
If you've got diabetes, you can expect improved blood sugar levels almost immediately. This is because most of the excess blood sugar comes directly from carbohydrates which are eaten. And simply by eating less carbohydrates, blood glucose levels can drop rapidly, even overnight.
The improved blood glucose control is so pronounced that some research indicates that more than 50 per cent of people can reverse type 2 diabetes using low-carb diets.
It is important to note, however, that this improved sugar control may mean that you need to reduce the dose of your regular diabetes medications. Some of them, like insulin, cause your blood sugar to drop, and if you remain on your usual dose, your blood sugar might go dangerously low.
So make sure to stay in close contact with your doctor so your medication dosages can be closely monitored. Coming off medications can be great, but it's important to do it safely.
Low-carb diets also tend to lower blood pressure. Again,while this is usually a good thing, if you don't reduce your blood pressure medication once you don't need it, your blood pressure could go too low. And this could make you dizzy or even cause you to faint.
So again, make sure you remain under the close supervision of your doctor if you're on blood pressure medication. Dietary changes can also affect blood thinning medications like warfarin, which might require a change of dose. Again, speak to your doctor and make sure this is monitored.
I also see people commonly stopping medications for reflux or heartburn after starting low-carb diets. The most common type of these drugs are known as proton pump inhibitors.
I was taught in medical school that these drugs have virtually no side-effects, but research shows several issues with their long-term use, including osteoporosis, pneumonia and dementia.
The good thing is that reflux symptoms usually improve rapidly with low-carb diets, often in under a week. For example, a study that put probes down the throat to measure acid levels found a large reduction in acidity after just six days. But suddenly stopping these medications can lead to a rebound increase in acid secretion. So, it's best to gradually stop them with the help of your doctor.
Low-carb diets are well known for causing weight loss. While results can vary, typical weight loss over the first three months is usually six to 10 kilograms. People who start out heavier tend to lose weight more rapidly, with weight loss slowing as people approach a healthy weight. It's important not to become too obsessed with the scales.
Your weight may be stable, or even increase despite losing fat, because many people despite being overweight can have weak muscles and thin bones. Nutrition can improve this even without additional exercise. And that what you lose in fat might be offset by gains in muscle and bone. This seems to be more common in my female patients, who often tell me the scales aren't budging even as their clothes are getting looser. I this call a non-scale victory, and a reminder of the importance of a tape measure.
One surprising benefit of weight loss is improved sleep. When we lose fat around the middle, we also lose fat in other parts of our body, including our tongue. And it's a fat tongue which is the main cause of the condition called sleep apnoea, where our airway is blocked during sleep, leading to tiredness no matter how long we spend in bed. Research shows the tongue visibly shrinking with weight loss, and I've had a lot of patients who've been able to stop using their CPAP machines for sleep apnoea after losing weight on low-carb diets.
Joint pain can also dramatically improve following weight loss on low-carb diets. Some research suggests pain from knee arthritis might reduce by half with only a 10 per cent weight loss. I've had patients cancel planned joint-replacement surgery because they no longer need it.
Low-carb diets have been shown to benefit many conditions but always talk to your doctor, especially if you are on any prescription medication.
- Dr Paul Mason is a sports medicine and exercise physician and shares his expertise via the Defeat Diabetes program. Learn how to send pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes into remission at DefeatDiabetes.com.au
ACM, publisher of this masthead, is partnering with Defeat Diabetes to offer readers a free three-month trial of the Defeat Diabetes app.
Scan the QR code in your favourite ACM newspaper for more details.