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Reversing Disease Through Diet

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.