Dr Pramod Tripathi conducts a workshop in Pune with patients as part of his Freedom From Diabetes programme. Image Credit: Facebook/Pramod Tripathi

In 2103, when Madhumita Kothe was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes during her second pregnancy at the age of 34, she was not troubled hugely. For a couple of years she drifted along without much concern for her condition. “The joy of having a child was greater than the risk to my own well-being,” says Kothe. So nothing much was done — she joined the ranks of millions who manage their diabetes with ever-greater doses of medication.

“I was resigned to my family roles,” says Kothe. “I was busy with my two kids, made excuses about not having the time to exercise, and took the shortcut by just having tablets. But I was becoming more and more ill every day.”

The wake-up call came three years after her diagnosis when Kothe’s physician told her to shift to insulin. “I thought, this can’t be happening to me; there has to be a way through.” By then, Kothe weighed about 80 kg and suffered from other diabetes-related complications.

Desperate to restore her health, Kothe started looking around for information about various treatments for diabetes and came across Freedom From Diabetes (FFD), a healthcare firm specialising in the treatment of the lifestyle disease.

“FFD gave me a second life,” says 39-year-old Kothe. And, it’s no exaggeration. After a complete lifestyle overhaul, she was taken off all her diabetes medication — about 28 days after joining FFD’s diabetes reversal programme. Today, she is 26 kg lighter and her blood sugar levels have returned to normal.

Others have also changed their lives through the programme. Started in 2011 in Pune, a city in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, FFD has succeeded in getting more than 5,000 diabetics off medicines and freeing another 1,000 from insulin dependency.

From where we stand now, it looks like a long and tough journey, but my goal is to get 100,000 people off diabetes in the coming years.

- Dr Pramod Tripathi

“It is possible to beat it [diabetes] into remission,” says Dr Pramod Tripathi, the founder of FFD. “Motivation and mentoring, with balanced diet, fitness plan and stress management, are all that is needed.”

Inspired by the studies of author and clinical researcher Dr Neal Barnard and holistic physician and mindful eating guru Dr Gabriel Cousens, Tripathi created an integrated health protocol over the years to tackle the disease. “To treat diabetes, just changing the diet is not enough, exercise and stress reduction are crucial as well,” he says.

It’s a psychological battle as much a physical one. So when a patient who undergoes a battery of tests, around 14 of them, upon joining FFD, and starts the diet, exercise and stress relieving regimen simultaneously, Tripathi says, blood sugar level drops rapidly. “To balance that, I customise medication and supplements.”

The production of insulin — the hormone that regulates levels of glucose in the blood — then begins again in the pancreas. The liver can reassert itself as the body’s reservoir for glucose and stop pumping out unwanted sugar. This programme has enabled many diabetics who have been taking tablets, some as long as 12 years, to control their diabetes.

FFD’s health protocol received a boost recently. A follow-up study, published in the International Journal of Diabetes and Endocrinology, proved the effectiveness of modified plant-based diet and anti-gravity exercises, developed by FFD, on blood glucose and metabolic health in patients with Type 2 diabetes. More than half of those studied, about 386 diabetic participants, had a remission. While the study was small, the findings offer hope to millions who have been told they must live with the intractable disease.

“Many experts believe Type 2 diabetes is an incurable disease that gets worse with time. But if we can get across the message that this is a reversible disease, it will be enormously motivating,” says Tripathi.

After living with the disease for eight long years, V. Jayaraman, who got off the tablets a month after joining FFD in 2014, vouches that the reversal can persist as long as patients keep the excess weight off, and the changes they make in their eating and exercise habits are maintained.

“It’s been over four years, and I’m still free of diabetes,” says the 65-year-old, who now strives to educate people about how to counter this lifestyle disease by volunteering at FFD workshops.

“What sets FFD apart is that it approaches diabetes from all possible angles, tackling IGF (Insulin-like growth factor), acidity, inflammation, Leptin resistance and fat accumulation,” says Jayaraman. “It’s an enriching experience.”

During the course of treatment, Tripathi says, dieticians, fitness experts and mentors provide guidance to optimise individual results, and there’s group therapy to “keep the energy high of patients, and boost their confidence.”

Family matters in diabetes care as well. “We involve family in the treatment not because it improves the outcome of the patient, but because they can also receive help and support,” he adds. “Usually, members of a family, having similar eating habits and lifestyle, are at risk of developing diabetes later in life. Through our programme, they get a deeper understanding of the disease.”

Family can cross the line and go where professionals are never going to be able to go in, agrees Rahul Girme, a biochemist who was diabetic for 12 years before joining FFD. “Besides moral support, my wife and my mother changed their diet along with mine. They, too, have smoothies, sprouts, salads and lentil-based breakfast. We eat sensibly.”

By adopting the healthy diet and working exercise into his everyday routine, 48-year-old Girme has now been taken off all his diabetes medication as well as his blood pressure pills, and his visual loss is restored. With his new lifestyle, he has more energy. “I’m in control now. I walk-jog, go to the gym and do yoga.” And, everyone got a bonus. “My wife lost 6 kg, and my mother lost 20 kg. Our life has changed for good,” he says.

Diabetes is deadly, debilitating and costly. Worldwide, the number of people with Type 2 diabetes — which can lead to serious and life-threatening complications including blindness and foot amputations, heart and kidney disease — has quadrupled over 35 years. According to a study published in the Lancet, it will rise to 511 million in 2030. In the UAE, 19.3 per cent of the population have been found to have diabetes, and it is estimated that many have undiagnosed diabetes.

“It’s a crisis and growing rapidly in the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent,” says Tripathi flatly. “The cost of diabetes care is very high, too.” But he’s hopeful “the tide could be turned”.

Now, as consumer gadgets weave themselves ever more tightly into everyday life, patients are finding technological solutions to their problems — pen insulin system and self-monitoring blood sugar patches. Many user-driven innovations are also being tested in academic settings to transform the lives of diabetics who need regular jabs with an implant that will churn out medicine. But Tripathi says, “New drugs and technology don’t excite me. It will only address the symptoms. Diabetes is misunderstood. No superfood and drugs can reverse the disease.”

“It’s a disease where you need to reduce fat, reduce acid, remove some growth factors that interfere with insulin, increase micro-nutrition, increase flow of blood to heart, increase stamina, and reduce stress. It is a lifestyle disorder, and has to be tackled accordingly,” adds the physician, who is amazingly fit, and includes meditation, weight training, running and yoga into his wellness routine.

He is unequivocal about the reasons for the epidemic. Genetic potential and family history plainly, but poor eating and exercise habits will eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes. Tripathi reckons a big part of the future effort is going to have to be in simple and sustainable dietary advice. He knows most people at risk, especially children, will not abandon all sugary sweeteners and refined starches, but greater efforts are needed to help people make healthy choices, such as higher taxes on sugary drinks, better labelling of food, restrictions on supermarket promotions of unhealthy products.

He has been encouraging people to make changes in how they eat and work physical activity into their everyday lives through a series of initiatives, including cooking classes, workshops, speaking engagements, and has incorporated on-demand model to diabetes care — an app plus a virtual consultation service — to cope with a growing diabetes population from around the world, including UAE and the US.

“The possibility of reaching out to people and educating them on how to become diabetes-free excites me. For me, it’s the only solution to this crisis,” he says. “From where we stand now, it looks like a long and tough journey, but my goal is to get 100,000 people off diabetes in the coming years.”

Suparna Dutt-D’Cunha is a writer based in Pune, India.