Lots of people write books about diabetes (myself included). Few have made diabetes movies. But only Gabriel Cousens, M.D., did both this year.
First came his book, There is a Cure for Diabetes (North Atlantic Books, ISBM 978-1-55643-691-8). Then on June 5 the Newport International Film Festival previewed his documentary, “Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days.”
Scott Mader, one of the film’s executive producer, subsequently sent me a “screener copy.” This 91-minute documentary just got here, and I have enjoyed watching it again and again in the last couple of days.
This film that focuses on the experiences — both positive and negative – and interactions of six people with diabetes from around the country who went to Dr. Cousens’s “Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center” in Patagonia, Arizona, about 60 miles south of Tucson. One of the participants couldn’t handle the diet and quit part way through. Another one got drunk on an unauthorized outing south of the border 20 miles from the center, but recovered. None of the other four participants had major problems with the program.
Watching the film was a lot more fun than reading his 446-page book. The personal and emotional aspects of the movie put a human face on how to control diabetes.
The film struck me as honest and sincere. Near the beginning of the film, one of the participants, Austin, says, “I am a defective human being.”
“Not everything that is good for you tastes good,” Michelle says.
“I don’t see why the doctors don’t know about this,” Pam says. “I’m going to tell mine when I get back.” In the event, her doctor appeared completely supportive in the movie, when she returned home.
I say that I “control” my diabetes. I don’t claim that I have cured it. The movie starts in fact with an implicit challenge to the American Diabetes Association by flashing a quote from the ADA that, “Diabetes is a chronic disease that has no cure.”
But Dr. Cousens says “reversing” and “cure.” He even claims that his raw food diet can cure type 1 diabetes. However, a disclaimer at the end carefully notes that, “This film does not intend to imply that type 1 diabetes can be healed with any predicable regularity.”
The book is essential background for the movie. Dr. Cousens reports in the book (pages 144-5) that one young man with type 1 “experienced what is considered medically impossible.” Two years after completing Dr.Cousens’s program, “He is in perfect health and diabetes-free” with his A1C down to 6.0. This young man is apparently Kirt, one of the people in the film.
When I first heard of this claim, my immediate reaction was that this young man might have had type 2 instead of type 1. Dr. Cousens, however, addressed this question directly in his book.
“One way to explain his rapid response to the Tree of Life program is to claim he was misdiagnosed,” Dr. Cousens writes. “But that ignores the typical rapid onset and acute transition to a potentially life threatening blood sugar of 1,200.”
Dr. Cousens says that the program includes “the use of proteolytic enzymes as well as the low-glycemic and low-insulin-index live-food diet that in itself has an anti-inflammatory effect.” I admit it: This is the first that I remember ever hearing about proteolytic enzymes.
But Dr. Cousens says that a Dr. William Wong sent him a personal communication. It claimed that two people with type 1 taking only proteolytic enzymes were able to stop taking insulin.
Proteolytic enzymes may help prevent blood clotting and reduce the inflammation connected with diabetes, Dr. Cousens writes. Wikipedia tells me that people generally call them proteases.
The movie never mentions proteolytic enzymes, emphasizing raw food. “The diet that works the best is a high fiber, high carbohydrate, low-fat diet,” Dr. Cousens says. No meat, dairy, bread, cooked grains, sugar, caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol. Nothing cooked above 118 degrees. The diet is “gourmet, all you can eat, raw, vegan meals three times a day.”
That could be hard to follow. But the movie shows that this is just the induction phase. Later, the film showed that at least some of the participants were able to successfully transition to a diet less than 100 percent raw food.
This diet works best, Dr. Cousens says, “Because when you cook the food, you lose 50 percent of the protein, 70 to 80 percent of the vitamins and minerals, and close to 100 percent of the phytonutrients.”
Let’s not challenge those assertions. But personally, the diet that has worked the best for me is its polar opposite, a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat one including meat, yogurt, including even caffeine and a little alcohol.
These diets do, however, share some similarities. Both extremes eschew bread, cooked grains, sugar, and tobacco.
The answer to this puzzle, I think, is the question of moderation. Aristotle taught us the virtue of “moderation in all things.” Aristotle was wrong.
When it comes to a successful diabetes diet, “moderation kills,” Dr. Cousens writes in his book (page 246). I think that’s the best explanation why such different diets as his and those such as used so successfully by patients of Dr. Richard K. Bernstein both work so well.
I loved the movie. See it when you can.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.