As reported by The Hartford Courant, March 31, 2008.

Big Health Benefits Attributed to Raw Diet

Six Diabetics in Documentary Are Able to Reverse Their Disease

By Joann Klimkiewicz

In his 2004 film "Super Size Me," director Morgan Spurlock humorously documents the dramatic health consequences of eating all the wrong things for 30 days. Subsisting on a McDonald's-only menu, he gains 25 pounds and a host of ailments, among them the decidedly unfunny side effects of liver damage and sexual dysfunction.

So what might happen, then, after 30 days of eating all the right things?

That question was the seed that evolved into "Raw for 30 Days," an independent documentary film that chronicles the experience of six diabetics who sign up for a radical diet change. The participants, most diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, move into an Arizona retreat center where they are medically supervised during a challenge to stay off dairy, meat, sugar, alcohol and processed foods. Keeping to a vegan, raw-foods diet of only uncooked, organic plant-based foods, the filmmakers claim participants were able to naturally reverse their diabetes, losing significant weight and coming off their insulin.

Set to be distributed online before a summer release at smaller film festivals, the documentary is by no means poised to be a cinematic blockbuster. But buzz has been building for more than a year in raw- and health-food circles. Proponents are wondering if the information can resonate with a mainstream American public plagued with an obesity epidemic and chronic diseases.

"I think it's going to take people to the level of believing, truly believing, that you are what you eat," says Glen Colello, a holistic health counselor and owner of the newly opened West Haven raw- and health-foods cafe Catch a Healthy Habit. "Maybe people will see this movie and realize medication isn't their only option."

Such was the intent of the team behind the film, led by creator and executive producer Mark Perlmutter, a longtime vegetarian who himself shifted to a largely raw, or living-foods, lifestyle. He said he witnessed the health benefits in eating fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds in their natural state. The philosophy is that uncooked foods are more nutrient-rich and have their enzymes intact and take less energy to digest, thereby freeing the body to heal itself.

Perlmutter learned more after moving to Arizona, where he became familiar with the work of raw-food pioneer Gabriel Cousens, a medical doctor who runs the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia. The center became the setting for the documentary, filmed in 2006 with six diabetics picked from a pool of more than 100 candidates.

Audiences will see those who stick with the program go through dramatic transformations. One participant initially diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later learns he actually had type 1 diabetes, considered incurable without a pancreas transplant.

"So, how do we get people to do this for themselves? They can't all go to Arizona," says Perlmutter. "It's great to get a couple of miracle stories about these people having major breakthroughs, but the question is how do you get [the medical establishment] to embrace something that obviously works for some people?"

But traditional medicine has embraced alternative therapies over the last decade, with many doctors now weaving holistic and naturopathic approaches into conventional treatments. There is, however, skepticism about the long-term benefits and loftier claims of extreme approaches such as raw foods, which dietitians caution can be difficult to sustain and may add up to an unbalanced diet that leaves out too many important foods. Most doctors advise patients to seek their physician's opinion before starting any such diets.

Scientific studies do show clearly the relationship between dietary choices and health. The World Health Organization determined that 70 percent of chronic diseases worldwide could be prevented entirely with changes to diet and lifestyle. In the United States, that figure jumps to 80 percent.

"Absolutely. Yes. Diet has a tremendous impact on disease progression and disease manifestation," says Dr. Mitch Kennedy of the University of Connecticut Health Center, the facility's first certified naturopathic physician. "And the fact is that most people don't eat well. All you have to do is look around at what's available — the fast-food chains and packaged foods and what's in the food labels."

Kennedy says there are merits to a raw-foods lifestyle. The nutrient content in foods is best preserved in its raw state. And considering the average American doesn't get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, most would do well to introduce more into their diets. Yet, he rarely recommends an entirely raw plan. It can be a drastic change, hard on the digestive system and lead to deficiencies in vitamin B12 without consumption of meat or dairy products.

When asked for comment, the American Diabetic Association declined to address the film directly, saying only that "weight loss through any means can lower glucose levels in those with type 2 diabetes, sometimes even to normal." It cautioned against any "one-size-fits-all diabetic diet" and encouraged healthful eating and exercise habits.

Kirt Tyson, the misdiagnosed type 1 diabetic, and the most successful of the film's six participants, says he knows the raw-food plan cured him of his disease. A Baltimore native, he says he went from his worst — a four-day hospitalization with his blood sugar at 1,200 — down today to normal levels. He remains on a raw diet, no longer on insulin.

"When you get diagnosed with this disease, you're always told ... there's no cure. So from that moment, you feel so defeated," says Tyson, 26, now a graduate student studying naturopathic medicine at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences in Arizona. "What this film does is give hope back to people. It's not a one-shot thing. You have to work for it. I have to work at it every day."

He doesn't advocate ignoring traditional medication, but says patients need to be better informed about all options available to them.

"Hopefully in the future, I'll be able to do some research to show how this diet is actually working," he says. "I don't know the chemistry behind it. But you can't look at a guy who was once taking insulin, and now is not and say there's not something to it. Clearly, it's working for me."

For more information about the film, visit www.RawFor30Days.com.