So, we’ve seen that, since 2019, the low-carb secret is out. Many governments and medical institutions have made the low-carb diet part of their diabetes treatment programs. If things keep progressing then there won't be any room for big business to squeeze money from diabetics in return for medicine and injections.
But, for the low-carb diet to really benefit millions of diabetics, all over the world, we need some other things to happen.
If you’re just adopting the low-carb diet as a lifestyle, you can choose freely as long as you eat more meat and vegetables and fewer carbohydrates as a staple food. Things will be relatively simple. However, if you are using the diet as a medical method to reverse an incurable chronic disease and you’re not an expert, it is relatively difficult.
You’ll have questions like: how should I adopt a low-carb diet, how should I make adjustments as my blood glucose level changes, where do I get the food I need. You will need a lot of support.
Not everyone has the time and inclination to spend 6 years studying in order to get the diet right. We need institutes that can help fellow diabetics work through this solution safely. And this is why we need government, society, the market, and public-spirited people to work together to get better prepared for that future moment.
Most people would assume that the home of these first institutes will be in the West, and in the United States specifically. Why? Because this country has always been a leading innovator. The Apollo space mission, Elon Musk’s plan to move to Mars, shale oil and gas extraction methods. The list goes on. There is no doubt that the US has long been the trend-setter in science and technology.
And when it comes to the low-carb diet, Virta Health, the digital diabetes company created by Sami Inkinen, combines the low-carb diet with digital capabilities to reverse diabetes. After several rounds of financing, it has become a rising technology star.
However, I am pessimistic about the future of Virta Health in the United States. Although it seems to be currently doing well, its success is built on the efficacy of the low-carb diet itself. The diet’s amazing capabilities can cover up the shortcomings of Virta’s business model temporarily. Let’s look at where I think Virta falls short.
Limits to investment:
First of all, their model requires too much investment, and the company's profits may not be able to support its business operation in the next ten years or so.
Because their model combines treatment with an internet-based system, the money usually necessary to develop new drugs or treatment methods doesn’t give the full picture. Usually, it will take 10 years and US$1billion to cover the research and development of a new drug. (Although 2016 research from Tufts University says this figure is now nearer to US$2.87billion).
Because Virta Health relies on the internet and technology as part of their solution, even more money will be needed. The cost of development and promotion of equipment, concepts, databases, underlying algorithms, applications, and others will be hard to count, especially considering the patients may not be all heavy Internet users. They are likely to be older people who lack knowledge and money. It will be difficult to reach a relatively large number of patients in a short time by relying too much on the Internet.
There is nothing wrong with companies promoting the low-carb diet and making money. This is an inevitable part of capitalism. However, to paraphrase a popular saying, any business model that cannot survive on its own profits is taking advantage of ordinary people to make money.
The focus on financing:
Virta Health uses financing as its main way of survival, which is likely to lead this mode of selling treatment schemes to extremes.
The mercenary nature of capital can subtly change the original intention of entrepreneurs. Between medical treatment and making money, capital is destined to choose the latter. Especially in the health and medical care industry, where it can use expertise to hide what happens behind the curtains. It's easy for capital to do whatever it wants, such as overemphasizing a certain kind of food, emphasizing that the low-carb diet must be combined with certain things, and creating new terms to alienate the concept of the low-carb diet. It is then that the original principle of using a simple low-carb diet to reverse diabetes is contaminated.
A long business chain:
Virta Health's business chain is too long. Because few individuals in the United States gave substantial savings, Virta Health's business model focuses on working with insurance companies. These companies pay consulting service fees out of personal insurance money and establish a chain between Virta Health, insurance companies and individual patients. It seems that this is a very creative approach. But in my experience the more the intermediate links are involved in the process, and the longer the business chain the easier it will be to have problems. As long as there is a problem with one point of this single-line link, the system will be completely broken.
The American personality:
There is another reason: the Americans themselves. Every nation has its own personality. The Anglo-Saxon personality is somewhat different from my Chinese heritage. For example, when you look at the difference in the reaction to Covid-19, in America many people refused to wear masks. They’re sense of freedom was more important to them than wearing a small strip of fabric, So the possibility of a wholesale change in their eating habits seems unlikely. Even if they agree with the concept of the low-carb diet.
The willingness of the US government:
The United States is a nation with a weak government and a powerful society. Government forces can play a very limited role in affecting social behavior. They are unwilling and unable to use administrative forces to interfere in things such as diet structure.
The lack of continuity in America's policies is another big problem. Even if some policies are adopted or bills are passed with a lot of resistance, such as raising sugar taxes or raising taxes on carbohydrate foods, it is likely that the Democrats will do it today and the Republicans will undo it tomorrow.
So much for the United States. What about my other home - China?
There are many differences between these two countries. You can list political, economic, military, cultural and other aspects, where they differ. But, as far as the prospect of reversing diabetes through the low-carb diet, I can say with certainty that the future lies in the East.
I have lived in the West for almost as long as I have lived in China, so I think I am qualified to make a summary.
First, let us take the people. Compared with Americans, the Chinese people have several characteristics that make it easier for the low-carb diet to be accepted and produce the desired results across the country.
1. Generally speaking, the Chinese people advocate frugality. On the one hand, they are willing to make efforts to avoid huge medical expenses. On the other hand, they generally have enough savings and therefore can afford to pay for help from professional institutions.
2. China's traditional culture makes people more open to the idea of curing diseases through adjusting their diet. Such stories have been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. Therefore, there is no need to spend a lot of time convincing people of the concept of a low-carb diet reversing diabetes. Countless people will be willing to try once the effect of the diet is publicly revealed.
3. The Confucian cultural circle advocates discipline and pays more attention to principles. The low-carb diet is very good, but it requires you to be able to control your desires. People's minds work in a strange way. The food you can't eat or access will feel more delicious to you. It's the same for me. Before I started to keep a low-carb diet, I didn't like food like rice and bread so much, but once I quit the staple food, in the first year or two, I always imagined the taste of rice with chili sauce and steamed buns with pickled mustard. I would dream of eating Chinese hamburgers at night. This desire must be restrained. In my impression, people from South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, who believe in Confucian culture and regard restraining their desire as a way of self-cultivation, can restrain their desire.
4. China has a huge population base, and the greatest number of fellow diabetics in the world. Of course, this is not a glorious thing itself, but it is good for business promotion, so that the consulting and service institutions engaged in this industry can support themselves and make profits. Let's go back to Virta Health, whose goal is to reverse diabetes for 100 million diabetics, even if it can solve all the problems mentioned before, there aren't 100 million diabetics in the US.
Now let’s consider things at a government level. Here China is still the most promising place for the promotion of the low-carb diet.
1. The first is the credibility of the Chinese government among the people. While foreign media might disagree, within China people trust the government as their final authority.
2. The second is the administrative capacity of the Chinese government. Through its recent actions in the flood fighting and disaster relief efforts, several earthquakes, and this pandemic, the mobilization capacity and administrative execution capacity of the Chinese government amazed the world.
3. Thirdly, the Chinese government has dense grass-root organizations. Neighborhood committees, communities and other social organizations have played a very important role in governmental behavior, so that the government's requirements can quickly reach all corners of the country. These are a key link to promote the low-carb diet, and implementing policies.
4. Finally, the Chinese government's restrictions on capital. Things shouldn't have been going smoothly for Alibaba recently. Needless to say, we all know what's going on.
What I am trying to say is that the future for the low-carb diet is in the East. That is my conclusion and I will admit that it makes me happy.
In both my office and apartment, I have a map of the world. Recently, when all was quiet in the dead of night, I often stared blankly at the map. A thought that has been in my mind for a long time has become more and more powerful. I want to do some things for my hometown, and let more fellow diabetics benefit from my achievement of reversing diabetes through the low-carb diet through a larger-scale way of dissemination. I think, this way, when I return to Taizishan*, looking at the ever-changing beautiful countryside, I will not feel the regret and guilt like before.
*Taizishan: literally means crown prince mountain in Chinese