Dr. Bernstein Interview Part 3 - Family, Autoimmunity & Our Continuing Battle

All this week, we've been posting portions of our in-person interview with Dr. Richard K. Bernstein MD. It was a pleasure to meet him and we had a chance to discuss diabetes, family, complications, treatment, stress and his personal practices. 

If you missed the first two installments, you can listen to the audio of our interview and read the transcript for Part 1 of the interview here and Part 2 of the interview here.

While I would've loved to get a video interview, audio will have to suffice this time. We were both comfortable on audio and with video, you would have seen my wide eyes and I'm-meeting-my-idol-silly-grin. 

Please click the play button in the bar below to hear audio part 3 (approx. 11 minutes), discussing Dr. B's own family, their autoimmune issues, his view of this "low carb battle" that we're waging, and one of his favorite topics. ;) 


Lisa: So many people are learning about the affects of carbs and sugar in our bodies now and many people, now that it's getting to be a more mainstream, they're lowering carbs. When you were learning about the affects of carbs in your own body, were you reducing carbs for the rest of your family, or did your family eat the same way as the normal american diet? 

Dr. Bernstein: Good question. They saw the results and because my kids could have inherited a tendency to diabetes, they were all fearful of becoming diabetic and my wife was fearful, so we didn't have candies in the house and sweets and they didn't get desserts and they didn't want it. And my kids are still... just trying to think... they're still all on low carb diets of their choosing. 

Lisa: That's fascinating. 

Dr. Bernstein: They're all older than I am now. (I missed this joke. hahaha!!)

Lisa: Does anybody in your family have an autoimmune disease? Anybody with Type 1 or hypothyroid or any of that familial clustering? 

Dr. Bernstein: At one point in time or another, 3 out of 4 were hypothyroid. Now 2 out of 4 are hypothyroid still. One daughter who is brain damaged over-ate when she was living out on her own, got overweight, and her A1c went up to something like 5.6%. So clearly she's... if she can't control her eating, she will be come diabetic. For me, 5.6 is diabetic, that's an average blood sugar of 124. Which is 50% more than the safest blood sugar. 

Lisa: That's fascinating to know about your family and how they've all stuck with a lower carb diet based on your results and experience.

The familial autoimmune connections are extremely common. That's something that I see people mention online all the time... 

Dr. Bernstein: By the way, my family has other autoimmune diseases. I must have 6 or 8 different autoimmune diseases, one of which is Raynaud's Phenomenon. And although my kids didn't complain about it, when my son was I guess about 12, we had our boat anchored in the harbor to watch fireworks on July 4. My son dives in, he swims a little while, he comes up and he has 2 white fingers, which is classic Raynaud's Phenomenon. So that is how I found out he had Raynaud's Phenomenon. And he gets cold hands and cold feet, especially in the wintertime and so on. And at least one of, no I think two of my daughters have it. So, they got hypothyroidism, they got Raynaud's Phenomenon and if we looked at bloods we might find more things. For example, I have Scleroderma antibodies and I've never tested my kids for that. I only found out that I have it by accident. I have no symptoms of it but... oh, Psoriasis. We all have Psoriasis. And Psoriasis is the most common other autoimmune disease that accompanies diabetics. Almost 100% of my patients have Psoriasis. And the classic finding is rough elbows, but it could be extreme, they could get psoriatic arthritis and be in terrible pain, etc. I had one lady who had what looked like cauliflowers growing out of her ears, so it is almost universal amongst diabetics, and it's not a complication of diabetes, it's inherited.

Lisa: That's fascinating. I know that's something that all of our families are concerned with. I have two daughters myself and we're watching them. My mom and my brother are both diabetic, as well as me. It's something that every family is concerned with. 

Dr. Bernstein: My Raynaud's phenomenon was very injurious to me emotionally in childhood because my mother used to take me ice skating when we lived in Brooklyn and I loved to go because the girls would spin around and their skirts would go up and my feet were in agony. I couldn't stand it. So we ended up calling an end to it, but it was giving up a great opportunity. 

Lisa: I love that! Well honestly, I don't like the cold either I'm a warm weather person and that might be part of it. I'm not sure. 

Now, my final question here. After 40+ years of fighting to get your information and discoveries out to the public, it's finally becoming more mainstream, through the media and research is starting to catch up. There is increasing amount of low carb information and diabetes groups. What keeps you going? You still maintain a private practice here, you're still very involved in getting this diabetes information out, We're all amazed at the tireless Dr. B. 

Dr. Bernstein: You're right, it's ... now that my wife is sick, there's sleep depravation besides... and I do stay up late doing homework, reading the journals. If you saw the pile I have upstairs, because her illness has set be behind, it's about this high (about 24"), but I'm going to work on it this weekend, but I also have to write a program for grand rounds that I'm doing at a hospital in 2 weeks, they're pushing me to send the program and I have to write a few other things. 

The problem is, that you say mainstream, I say it's a small minority. We might be talking about a few 10's of thousands of people out of the billions that inhabit this planet. And as far as the medical authorities go, it's close to zero. It's a handful of people. You could... probably every doctor who advocates either low carb or normal blood sugars could fit in this room. Every doctor in the world. 

The American Diabetes Association is staunchly opposed to normal blood sugars and I call it criminal but we're not making a dent in them. In fact, they now a year ago, advertised that their preferred sweetener for diabetics is a 50/50 mixture of stevia and Domino cane sugar. So the patient doesn't count and here you have people around the country donating millions of dollars a year to an organization that acts like they're trying to kill the patients. 

Lisa: Yet, you keep fighting. 

Dr. Bernstein: So, it's not a battle that's won. It's nowhere near won. More and more people are being put on regimens that don't work, that are killing them. 

And even one of my favorite subjects unfortunately is amputations. They (the ADA) boast about a slight reduction in the annual rate of amputations because non-healing ulcers are being treated better. But if you read their guidelines for foot care, they state "calluses should be removed with a sharp instrument by a trained professional" you're cutting off calluses! Can you imagine that? Well, I was director of the wound care clinic at a major medical school. I served in that clinic for 27 years, a long time. From the first day, I interviewed every new patient and every time we had a diabetic who had had an amputation of either a toe, a part of a foot, a whole leg, etc. I asked, and it was usually what was called salami surgery. First you cut off a toe, then a segment of the foot, etc. and eventually you lose the whole leg. I said what led to the first amputation? And in 100% of the cases, it was someone tying to remove a callus Usually it was someone taking a stone and filing it down. Most commonly it was podiatrists in that same hospital. Second was a family member or the patient themselves. And the ADA is still advocating this in their patient publications, they're selling machines to the patients to grind down their calluses, the calluses are protecting you from further... from breaking a hole in your skin.. and you should cut them off, and then have more pressure on the site, where you now made a sore, so that site won't heal. 

I sent a letter to the editor of one of the diabetes journals, an ADA journal, I don't know 7 or 8 years ago and they actually published it, which is very rare, because I'm considered an enemy. And for the next 2 years, the foot care group withdrew that requirement from their guidelines, but then the committee turns over, you get a new committee and the new committee puts it back in. And it's been that way ever since. 

And when you talk to the Podiatrists, and I have a friend in my gym whose a podiatrist, and he says you're talking about our bread and butter. We spend most of our day filing down calluses. 

Lisa: So it boils back down to this is taking away business from the doctors, just like testing blood glucose was taking away business from the doctors. 

Thank you Dr. Bernstein for your time today, we really appreciate you sharing this time and sharing all of your experience with us, both through your book, your teleseminars, Diabetes University. We appreciate all that you do for the diabetes community as a whole. Thank you very much. 

Dr. Bernstein: Good to be with you Lisa. Good luck. 

Lisa: Thank you.   

End Transcript

To learn about Dr. Bernstein's plan for diabetes management, read the book Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution.

Dr. B's many videos can be viewed at Diabetes University on Youtube and he also conducts a monthly teleseminar/webcast where he answers questions from the public.