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Richard K. Bernstein is a physician and an advocate for a low-carbohydrate diabetes diet to help achieve normal blood sugars for diabetics. Bernstein has type 1 diabetes. His private medical practice in Mamaroneck, New York is devoted solely to treating diabetes and prediabetes. He is a fellow of the American College of Nutrition, the American College of Endocrinology and The College of Certified Wound Specialists. He is the author of six books on diabetes and normalizing blood sugars.
In 1946, at the age of twelve, Bernstein developed type 1 diabetes. For more than two decades, Bernstein was what he calls, "an ordinary diabetic"—one who dutifully followed doctor's orders. Despite his diligence coping with the disease, the complications from his diabetes worsened over the years, by the time Bernstein reached his thirties, many of his body's systems began to deteriorate.
In October 1969, Bernstein came across an advertisement in the trade journal Lab World. It was for the first blood glucose meter that would give a reading in 1 minute, using a single drop of blood. The device was intended for emergency staff at hospitals to distinguish unconscious diabetics from unconscious drunks. The instrument weighed three pounds, cost $650, and was only available to certified physicians and hospitals. Determined to take control of his situation, Bernstein asked his wife, a doctor, to order the instrument for him.
Bernstein began to measure his blood sugar about 5 times each day and soon realized that the levels fluctuated wildly throughout the day. To even out his blood sugars, he adjusted his insulin regimen from one injection per day to two and experimented with his diet, notably by reducing his consumption of carbohydrates. Three years after Bernstein began monitoring his own blood sugar levels, his complications were still progressing and he began researching scientific articles about the disease. He discovered several studies on animals suggesting that complications from diabetes could be prevented, and even reversed, by normalizing blood sugars. This is in contrast to the then extant treatment of diabetes which focused on low-fat, high carbohydrate diets and on preventing hypoglycemia and ketoacidosis.
Bernstein set out to achieve normal blood sugars; within a year he had refined his insulin and diet to the point that they were normal throughout the day. After years of chronic fatigue and complications, Bernstein felt healthy and energized. His serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels were now in the normal ranges, and friends commented that his complexion was no longer gray. He is believed to be the first individual to self-monitor his blood sugar and was an early advocate for such monitoring by diabetics.
Bernstein believed that the same technique could be used to assist diabetics whose quality of life could vastly improve if they followed a similar lifestyle. Despite his effectiveness in treating his own condition, as a layperson he had difficulty gaining the necessary attention of the medical field to change the standard treatment of diabetics. Bernstein wrote a paper describing his technique and attempted to get it published in many major medical journals, but none would accept it, in part because he was not an MD. In 1977, he decided to give up his job and become a physician—"I couldn't beat 'em, so I had to join 'em."
In 2008, at 74 years of age, Bernstein has surpassed the life expectancy of type 1 diabetics. He attributes his longevity to the low-carbohydrate dietary approach and lifestyle changes he developed for diabetics. As of 2006, Bernstein had an HDL cholesterol of 118, LDL of 53, Triglycerides of 45, and average blood sugar of 83 mg/dl.
Bernstein's program for treating diabetes is highly regarded amongst his patients and achieves great blood sugar control, which reduces some or all of the complications associated with diabetes. The tradeoff is compliance with a very restricted diet and in many cases, frequent testing and insulin shots. Bernstein strongly opposes the dietary guidelines from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. His dietary recommendations are in contradiction to other diets.
Some of the highlights of his treatment program include:
He is director emeritus of the Peripheral Vascular Disease Clinic of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center.