Reversing Disease Through Diet

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Learn how an 8-week diabetes reversal program at Kaiser Permanente makes significant strides in helping people to reverse the disease.

Several years ago, Pankaj Vij, MD, a primary care physician at the Kaiser Permanente Pleasanton Medical Offices, noticed a troubling trend among his patients.

“I saw that more and more patients were being diagnosed with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes. I wanted to go beyond just offering them medication, which can give a false sense of security,” said Dr. Vij. “In other words, instead of using better mops, I wanted to turn off the faucet.”

Diabetes is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States despite medical advancements in drug treatments and preventive education. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 29.1 million Americans are diabetic and another 86 million are prediabetic.

In Northern California alone, over 400,000 members are living with diabetes. The A1C test is a common blood test used to diagnose type 1 and type 2 diabetes and gauge how the disease is being managed. If a patient’s level is higher than 8, it puts him or her at greater risk for heart attack, stroke, and other diabetes complications. Each 1 percent reduction in one’s A1C level is associated with a 37 percent reduction in risk for these complications.

“Although the risks of diabetes and best practices for disease management are well known, many patients struggle to carry out the lifestyle changes necessary to control their diabetes,” said Dr. Vij. “And I wanted to figure out a way to do something about that.”

Inform, Inspire, and Empower

In January 2015, Dr. Vij designed and launched a free, 8-week pilot program at Kaiser Permanente Pleasanton to tackle diabetes using a holistic approach. The class, called “Diabetes Reversal,” aims to inspire type 2 diabetes patients to adopt a whole foods plant-based diet, become physically active, sleep regularly, and integrate therapeutic practices such as meditation and yoga into their daily lives.

“These lifestyle changes successfully help members sustain normal glucose levels, reduce or eliminate medications, and eventually reverse diabetes,” said Dr. Vij.

Dr. Vij added that the class helps members connect and support one another through managing the disease and seeing the positive impact that a better diet, exercise, and a balanced life can have on one’s health.

The class also extends beyond the walls of Kaiser Permanente: On a Saturday morning during the program, students are offered a chance to go to a grocery store with Dr. Vij to learn more about how to shop healthily — mainly in the produce aisle. Dr. Vij said that diabetic patients typically try to find items that are sugar-free, but that learning about “super foods” in the produce aisle is a more productive way to lose weight and reverse disease.

“I wanted to give my patients all the tools possible to empower them to take their health back,” said Dr. Vij. “People often think that diabetes is a chronic and progressive disease, but the reality is your genes are not your destiny. It is possible to once again achieve normal glucose levels and reduce medication.”

Life-Changing Results

After the pilot class of 15, 80 percent of members saw a reduction in their A1C levels; 41 percent saw a reduction in their waist size; 6 percent reduced medication; and 100 percent rated the class as excellent. To date, over 100 people have taken the class and have achieved similar results.

“James,” a Kaiser Permanente member enrolled in the pilot program, said that he was impressed and touched that Kaiser Permanente offered this class and was so invested in his individual health.

“I’m now taking daily walks, about 10,000 steps each day,” he said.

“It’s the most gratifying and best thing that I’ve done,” continued Dr. Vij. “As a physician, you want to feel like you’re having joy in your practice, and that comes from doing things that are meaningful.”

If interested in participating in the “Diabetes Reversal” program at the Kaiser Permanente Pleasanton Medical Offices, contact your primary care doctor for a referral. Learn how to manage type 2 diabetes.

Discussion20 Comments

    • There are two free (1.5 hour) plant-based nutrition classes offered in the Sacramento area. Unfortunately, not an 8-week program, but hopefully in the future!

  1. This is wonderful news. I would love to offer this in GSAA. Perhaps Dr Vij can offer NP/MD trainings and share his curriculum.

  2. Strong work, Dr. Vij! Our members will be healthier and live longer and have more productive lives thanks to you. As a WFPB eater myself, this is the best way to combat disease, save the environment, and be kind to the animals. Thank you for taking this special message to our members. I also wish it was available in Sacramento!

  3. Dear Pankaj,

    You have done a wonderful job, this is the right approach you took that will surely lead to long-term success. I am one of the dietitians at Santa Clara. I would like to help you if you ever extend this program to Santa Clara area. Way to go!

  4. christine butler

    Is this 8-week diabetes reversal class offered in any other service areas? What about Marin/Sonoma or East Bay? I’m only aware of a 1.5 hour class — this one sounds like it would make a difference since it is multiple weeks and could really help me manage my condition!

    • Christine, please check with your local health education department to see if there is a comparable class in your area. Thank you.

  5. Janeece Killingsworth

    This sounds like a great class to sign up for but I live and work at Kaiser in the Sacramento area. I checked with our education department and this class is not offered in our area. Very disappointed and not sure why this email would be sent out to our area when the classes are not available.

    • Janeece, we are sorry you are disappointed. It’s important for employees, physicians, and the public to know about innovations such as Dr. Vij’s class, which is why you received the news. Perhaps you could print out the story and take it to your local health education department to ask if it could be replicated? Thank you for writing in.

    • There are two free (1.5 hour) plant-based nutrition classes offered in the Sacramento area. Unfortunately not an 8-week program but hopefully in the future! The Health Education Dept can sign you up.

  6. Michael Rehbein

    Thank you, Dr Vij.
    When we understand and educate that reversing diabetes is possible, not with pills, but with changes in what we elect to eat, then KP will help so many more patients achieve vibrant, healthy living.

  7. I love these stories; however, we need more doctors and patients to adopt a whole foods plant-based diet. The health benefits are not just for diabetes but for many other conditions. This is the future of health care and the only way we are going to bend the cost trend. Keep spreading the word!

  8. Absolutely amazing and so not surprising. I applaud Dr. Vij and his foresight to inform, inspire, and help patients see that the body has so many ways to heal but we have to tap into them to bring the body into balance. That is health care! In a culture that accepts undue chronic stress and lack of sleep as the norm, we are seeing the results in every area of society. Thank you so much for bringing this to the forefront here at Kaiser Permanente and for your dedication to your patients and our members.

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