My Take on Dr. Bernstein

Laddie_Head SquareI strongly believe that everyone with diabetes of any type should read Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: A Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars.  I am neither advocating that you follow his teachings to the letter nor am I even suggesting that you try his WOE (way of eating).  But I believe that you should read the book.

Dr. Bernstein was diagnosed with diabetes in 1946 at the age of 12.  He indicates that for over two decades “I was an ‘ordinary’ diabetic, dutifully following doctor’s orders….”  In his twenties and thirties he began to experience significant complications including deteriorating vision, kidney disease, neuropathy, and cardiomyopathy.  During those years the medical community began to link high blood cholesterol to heart disease and it was a widespread belief that high amounts of dietary fat were the cause of this elevated cholesterol.  Therefore like many diabetics then and now, he was prescribed a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.

In 1969 Dr. Bernstein’s life changed dramatically when he saw an advertisement for a new device that hospital emergency rooms could use to test blood sugar levels to distinguish “unconscious diabetics” from “unconscious drunks.”  Although he was prohibited from buying the $650 device because he was not a doctor, his wife was a physician and she placed the order.  He began to use this device and went down in history as the first patient with diabetes to use a home blood glucose meter.  For a fascinating peak into the history of Blood Glucose meters, I encourage you to read David Mendoza’s interviews with four pioneers, including “Dick” Bernstein, who were instrumental in the development and ultimate widespread use of these meters.

Using his new meter, Dr. Bernstein quickly learned was that his blood sugars resembled a roller coaster with daily lows in the 40’s and highs in the 400’s.  Over the next four years he experimented with changes to his eating and insulin regimen that significantly improved his blood glucose levels and slowly eliminated many of the diabetic complications he had been experiencing.  Ultimately he developed a road-map to a destination that was “normal” blood sugars.  In order to have his ideas taken seriously, he attended medical school starting in 1979.  At almost 80 years of age, Dr. Bernstein continues to have a thriving medical practice and numerous publications describing his methods for controlling blood sugars.

Bernstein Book CoverThe foundation for Dr. Bernstein’s regimen is a strict diet with a limit of 30 grams of carbohydrates per day.  He has strong opinions about what types of insulins should be used and is a fervent opponent of insulin pumps.  The guiding principle in his teachings is “the law of small numbers” where if you eat small amounts of carbohydrates along with small amounts of insulin, you will have only small mistakes not big mistakes.  Dr. Bernstein sees the world in black and white with very few allowances for variance from his plan.  If you read his book, you will be given a detailed prescription for reaching the nirvana of “normal” blood sugars.

Dr. Bernstein has many followers who credit him with saving their lives and they follow his diet and other teachings to a tee.  There is an active forum with discussions about the Bernstein diet and philosophy.  There are also many people, and this probably includes me, who adopt some of his ideas with less stringent goals and see significant improvement in BG numbers.  Although he is still dismissed by much of the medical community as an extremist or even a quack, some of his ideas are becoming mainstream with the increased acceptance of low carb diets and lower A1c targets for people with diabetes.

Although few of us can live the Bernstein life perfectly and most of us don’t even want to try, why do I believe that everyone with diabetes should read this book?  The answer is  because the strongest message that comes out of the book is that you can successfully control your diabetes.  You are not a helpless victim destined for continual high and low bloods sugars along with a myriad of complications.  You have the power to make decisions that will improve your blood glucose numbers.  You can set goals and take steps to achieve those goals.  Some of the necessary changes will not be easy to incorporate into your life.  However, if improved blood sugars are a high priority, you can do it.

You are in control.  That is a powerful and inspiring message and that is why you should read the book.

Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution was first published in 1997.  The 4th and most current edition was released in 2011.