An interview with Sacha Barrio-Healey, OMD
Diabetes is a disease that affects millions of people worldwide. Although debated for a long time, modern toxic lifestyles that compromise proper nutrition and sufficient physical exercise are a major cause.
Knowing these facts is a great source of empowerment so that much can be done in the arena of prevention. The Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine (FAIM) is committed to help inform the public in modalities to deal with issues that are not generally promoted by mainstream media or official health authorities.
FAIM also scouts the world for outstanding practitioners that have and are willing to share their knowledge and experience with us.
One of these is the Sacha Barrio-Healey, a Peruvian-American OMD that has developed a complex protocol based on principles of Nutrition and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). His constitutional and dietary approach is extremely useful in Diabetes, type II, a condition that the orthodox medical community often considers as incurable.
Dr. Barrio-Healey agrees that diabetes is incurable as long as the patient follows a medication approach only, such as Medformine and insulin. In clinical practice, he normally asks patients to come off medications.
The following brief lines sum up a few simple strategies Dr. Barrio uses to address this disease.
- Chromium. One of the most bioavailable sources is in Brewer's Yeast, which also has a broad spectrum of B-complex vitamins. In India, many practitioners claim that half the cure to diabetes lies in Brewer's Yeast, the other half in diet.
- Omega 3. Good sources are Flax, Sacha Inchi, and Hemp seeds; all these are fats that will give energy to the patient. They will not raise glucose levels but assist in regulating blood sugar levels.
- MSM. Organic sulfur increases the permeability of the cell membrane, helping it receive glucose. Furthermore, sulfur is an important element in the insulin structure.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid. A powerful antioxidant that has the properties to prevent and reverse the glycation of tissues.
Dr. Barrio-Healey explains that herbal medicine is a complex science and many herbs must be selected in the right dose and combination. At a very gross level of simplification, conveying principles from TCM, one can classify diabetics into the three constitutional types that are represented by three major herbs. Each of these types need a different therapeutic approach and cannot all be lumped together.
- Cinnamon: Vata constitution – thin, pale, cold, dry, and often with heart palpitations.
- Astragalus: Kapha constitution – fat, cold, phlegmatic, slow, obese, and mucus forming.
- Pinelia: Pitta constitution – hot, greasy, irritable, red, where high cholesterol and hypertension are common.
Low Glycemic Foods
These are foods that will not violently alter blood sugar levels but will be slowly absorbed. The Glycemic Index (G.I.) indicates how fast the food increases blood sugar levels. To give a reference, wheat bread has a G.I. of about 100.
- Lima beans G.I.= 36
- Amaranth G.I.= 35
- Aduki beans G.I.= 35
- Mung beans G.I.= 31
- Split peas G.I.= 30
- Lentils G.I.= 29
The main part of the diet must be composed of raw and some steamed vegetables like asparagus and broccoli. Vegetables and sprouts are unique in their capacity regulate blood sugar levels and to a positive modulating action on the anti-diabetic genetic milieu.
The only sweetener that Dr. Barrio-Healey has found to be not only sweet but also actively anti-diabetic is Stevia, an herb that originally came from Paraguay.
Physical exercise is an effective way to improve glucose sensitivity of the tissues. If done under the sun, even better, as Vitamin D is also a great glucose regulator.
What follows is a translation and summary from Dr. Barrio-Healey's notes and lectures, which he has kindly allowed us to share with our readers. Dr. Barrio-Healey explains that doctors have always recognized hyperglycemia where the blood turns sugary, viscous, and red like strawberry marmalade. Urine tests were easily done for the name diabetes mellitus says it all: "sweetened with honey!"
In TCM, the disease is called xiao ke that can be translated as deterioration or atrophy with thirst. In ancient times practitioners recognized a syndrome which is broader than diabetes that is called tang niao ping which literally is translated as sugar-urine-disease.
Dr. Barrio-Healey says that nutritional behaviors are the most alarming factors and so evidently obvious by the number of obese people. For example (in a century) the United States sugar consumption has increased from 2.25 kg to 68.9 kg per capita.
TCM also gives importance to emotional and spiritual factors. Chinese philosophical principles state that Fire (huo) generates Earth (tu) in the sense that fire produces ash for the earth. Furthermore, in the body the Heart (xin) feeds the Spleen-Pancreas (pi is spleen but in TCM it also can apply to the spleen-pancreas system; pancreas per se is yixian). On a higher plane, this is the Spirit (shen of the Heart) that needs to guide the Intellect (yi of the Spleen-Pancreas). In other words the intuitive intelligence of the heart needs to illuminate, direct and orient the rational intelligence of the Spleen-Pancreas. If the Heart cannot shine its light on the Mind (yi, same as intellect), then the Mind operates in isolation, non-communicated in obscurity and ignorance. In TCM, the Spleen-Pancreas is the throne for Yi, reason, preoccupations, considerations and the source of energy necessary for academic studies.
Dr. Barrio-Healey elaborates for us by telling a story from the Hindu tradition: God sees the world with the eyes of the sun. That means that where he puts his (or her) eyes, the radiance is so powerful that there is no shadow. When looking into a cave every corner shines, when looking under a rug there is not even a trace of shadow. For God everything is perfect and there is no duality.
However, it is taught that the human Mind is de-communicated with the Spirit. It turns its back to it; it lives in duality and rationality. When humans live the bare existence of duality they create a mind within an environment of neurosis. The scientist operates in a world of total rationality, develops Frankenstein technologies, creates an abstract world; his mind is full of geometric lines, calculations, formulas while his heart beats in a desert. Rationality will eventually drown him. It is not an issue of being religious or not, but to have the capacity to integrate the Heart with the Mind. As Saint Paul said, what use is to have the world if one does not have a heart?
The sun is at the centre of the solar system. In the microcosm of the human anatomy the solar plexus is the emotional centre. The organs that govern the solar plexus are the pancreas, the spleen and the stomach. Through the ages, in all lands and in all philosophical and religious schools, we are instructed to remain with equanimity: at the centre of our emotions and not at the periphery. Etymologically, equanimity means to face situations with the same emotional state. When this does not happen, the spleen-pancreas gets perturbed; it loses its functional axis, loses peace and harmony and that is the start of digestive and metabolic problems like diabetes.
According to TCM, the spleen-pancreas corresponds to the rational side of the mind. However, the mind is a labyrinth of ideas, contradictions, preoccupations, nervousness, anxiety and melancholy. We will lose our centre and privileged position of being safe in the eye-of-the-storm where we can observe our mind clearly.
Due to the pain that is created by anxiety, men and women look to console the heart. The heart starts searching for affection, order and consolation insatiably. At a physical level, it looks for it in sugar, sweets and chocolate. Every time there is nervousness, preoccupations and lack of love, we sweeten ourselves artificially; we drug ourselves with sugar.
At an emotional level, we seek solace in our partner or spouse. We make demands: I want you on my side, why are you not affectionate with me, why don't you love me, where did you go? You demand love by knitting a scheme of emotional blackmail and conflicts. And every time one demands love with this intimidation and emotional violence, one cultivates more conflict and more thirst for affection. Words like sugar, honey-baby and sweetie are revelatory of the relationship between sweets and love.
The anxiety foments the release of adrenaline, which physiologically facilitates the conversion of glycogen into glucose causing more blood-sugar alterations.
According to the WHO, the leading cause of death in the world is cardiovascular diseases. But a sharp researcher came to another conclusion: humanity is strafed by depression, anguish, anxiety, sickness and death that are caused by conflicts within the couple. Throw the first stone whomever is free of this problem! Many diseases are none other than somatizations of couple-conflict problems; it is the era in life that most makes us suffer.
Omram Michael Aivanhov, a spiritual teacher, says that marriages in the world end up breaking up because they are all in essence adulterous. The reason is that marriages are trying to unite the spirit and the mind of different people: a complex union full of challenges. The legitimate marriage is between one's own spirit and mind; it is the union between the heart and the mind. Transferring this logic to the organs, we can say the union is between the heart and the spleen-pancreas.
Love is universal. Many times, among other places, it is also found in the beloved. Perhaps our error is to make it depend on the other. Sometimes we encounter love within the couple. Sometimes we find desolation, heartbreaks and pain through the person we love. If we see something imperfect with the being we love and if we face conflicts with wickedness, criticisms and reproaches, it is like Hercules that slits the throat of Hydra: two heads will pop up instead of one! Hate multiplies and advances the destruction of a relationship.
If our conscience is in harmony with our heart, if we are in equanimity, we drink in every moment the sweetness of the universal nectar, which is the legitimate candy for the soul. There is no need to look for it in junk food, sweeteners, or to establish relationships of emotional dependence, infidelities or emotional blackmails. On the contrary, we can feed ourselves healthy foods and live with love, respect, harmony and grow spiritually with our partner.
Classification of Diabetes Types
There are three types of diabetes which is important to distinguish because each needs a different therapeutic approach. Each one of them resides in the heating of a different region of the body: upper, middle and lower. A major organ respectively dominates each region: heart, spleen, kidney (shen). In each of these regions one can find wear and exhaustion.
Generally, in all three manifestations we are going to find certain emptiness with the kidneys and their essence. In TCM this organ is not the same as its definition in Western Medicine. In TCM it refers to the whole hormonal system of the body and not just to the organ that filters blood. Being an organ that presides over hormones, it also governs pancreatic hormones, insulin, pancreatinine and liver glucagen.
The principle foods that are attributed to Diabetes are the ones with a high GI such as refined cooked carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, cooked carrots, potatoes, white rice and soft drinks.
To finalize this section, Dr. Barrio-Healey suggests (and he is not the only one) that there is a relation between diabetes type I and the consumption of cow's milk. The following table shows an interesting table of correlations between the consumption of cow's milk and the incidence of diabetes type I:
- Japan: 50 liters per year — 2 cases per 100,000 population
- Denmark: 150 liters per year — 15 cases per 100,000 population
- Finland: 250 liters per year — 30 cases per 100,000 population
Some Important Blood-Sugar Regulating Nutrients
Chromium behaves like an insulin amplifier. Chromium levels determine the number of insulin cellular receptors. Chromium helps insulin deposit itself in the cells and take in the glucose.
Chromium deficiencies are associated with glucose intolerance, hyperglycemia and glycosuria. To aggravate the panorama of people suffering from diabetes type II, they have a flare-up loss of chromium in the urine, especially in those who are enduring the disease for more than a year.
MSM (Methyl Sulfonyl Methane)
MSM has many functions, but chemically speaking it is a way to supplement sulfur in the diet. Sulfur is part of the insulin molecule, the hormone that regulates sugar in the blood. Sulfur also regulates biotin, a B vitamin that participates in glucokinase, an enzyme involved in the phosphorylation of glucose.
Low blood levels of sulfur can result in low levels of insulin. A diet rich in organic sulfur can help the body produce insulin. Similarly, insulin helps increment the permeability of the cellular membrane, which in turn facilitates glucose absorption. The final result is that MSM is an important organic supplement for diabetic patients.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a powerful antioxidant that, among other sources, is found in potato peel. As an antioxidant, it has the virtue to have a double action specter because it works both in a liposoluble (fat soluble) and hydrosoluble (water soluble) environment. Normally, antioxidants only work in one type of medium. For example, vitamin C is effective in water, but vitamin E is more effective to avoid fat oxidation.
ALA has an important role in diabetes because it helps prevents and reverse the cardiovascular damage produced by the disease. It has been used successfully in Germany for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy. Dr. Barrio-Healy recommends a high dose of up to 600mg a day (but for people without diabetic neuropathy, a daily dose of 100mg is usually sufficient).
ALA helps balance the sugar metabolism and it reduces the glycosilated proteins, improves blood circulation in peripheral arterioles, and stimulates the regeneration of nerves. ALA increments the sensitivity to insulin. In other words, ALA is an antioxidant that stops and prevents the corrosive effect of sugar on the arteries and proteins of the body.
Therapists in India claim that half the cure of diabetes resides in the diet and the other half in brewer's yeast. It is an important source of amino acids and offers a rich concentration of B-vitamins which protect the nervous system.
ALA works in synergy with niacin and thiamin. Brewer's yeast is also a rich source of bio-available chromium.
Cooked fats have an abnormal structure for our bodies. They block the arteries and turn the lymphatic system viscous and dense. Cooked fats do not dilute in water thus they obstruct circulation, are difficult to metabolize and contribute to obesity.
Eating raw fats like avocado, coconut, sesame, flax, sacha inchi and ungurahui (two Peruvian botanicals rich in fats – we remind the reader that Dr. Barrio-Healy lives in Peru) does not contribute to obesity because these foods come with lipases (fat digesting enzymes). These enzymes are usually lacking in overweight people. Including lipases and oils from raw plants helps to metabolize excess fats that accumulated in the body. This includes raw saturated fats from coconut and cacao beans.
Dr. Barrio-Healy claims that an important part of the therapy is for the diabetic patient to abandon animal meats. The patient will feel a vacuum which is not necessarily from lack of proteins. He/she must fill this with a dose of raw and unrefined fats.
These fats also help us lower the sugar levels in the blood and they are rich in antioxidants. The Omega-3 fats elongate into PG3 (Prostaglandins-3) that in turn lowers the level of insulin in the blood. The high level of consumption of carbohydrates and sugar simply elevates the level of insulin in the blood and of PG2, which are derived from arachidonic acid in animal meats.
Essential fatty acids from vegetables give a protective sheath around nerves which gives solidity and structure to the nervous system. They are very important to certain type of people, especially thin, nervous ones with signs of dryness, which in Ayurveda are know as Vatta.
Grains with Low Glycemic Index
One can gain great benefit by sprouting these grains. During the sprouting process the percentage of carbohydrates decreases, vitamins, amino acids and enzymes are generated that help our digestive system.
Herbes and Diabetes
Dr. Barrio-Healy elucidated that metformine, one of the most diffuse anti-diabetic medicines, is a guanide. This hypo-glycemiating substance is naturally found in galega officinalis, a plant used in medieval Europe for the treatment of diabetes.
Traditional Medicinal Herbs to treat Diabetes
To be effective, TCM must consider the constitution of the patient. One can classify diabetics into 3 major types of that can be related to the Ayurvedic doshas.
Astragalus (Kapha dosha)
Pinelia ternata (Pitta dosha)
Cinamonum cassia (Vatta dosha)
Kapha constitution of Astragalus (Huang qi)
There is a predominance of cold and humid. People who suffer diabetes are usually Kapha constitution. Astralagus is one of the expressions of this dosha. This kind of person is overweight, with extra body mass hanging, sweats profusely, tired, constantly sick with colds and has prolapsed organs. There are studies that indicate the combination of astralagus with dioscorea is useful to regulate glucose in the blood. The classic formula is: Huang qi gui zhi wu wu tang.
To be able to use astralagus one must keep in mind that there must not be abdominal distension.
Pitta Constitution of Pinelia ternata (ban xia)
In the Pitta constitution one has heat and fat. The plant one uses to correct this is Pinelia ternata. According to TCM, one of the most common manifestations of diabetes is the "fire in the stomach." It is frequent to see yellowish fur on the tongue, which are symptoms of gastritis, smelly sweat and high cholesterol.
The formula most used is: Huang lian Wen dan tang.
Vatta Constitution of Cinamonum cassia (gui zhi)
In the Vatta constitution we have cold and dryness. One manifestation of Vatta is the cinnamon constitution where one sees very delicate people with pale complexion. Cinnamon is now officially recognized for its anti-diabetic effect; nevertheless it is not enough to know the physiochemical properties of the plant. One needs to go further to see the constitution of the patients that requires cinnamon. The formulas where cinnamon is the emperor are many and one needs to have various more elements to judge and differentiate the adequate formula for the patient. The classic prescription is: Gui zhi tang.
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Sources for glycemic index
Glycemic Index from the Student Nutrition (& Body Image) Action Committee at UCLA
PubMed Central (the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) free digital archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature)