In 1946, at the age of twelve, Richard Bernstein developed type 1 diabetes, and for more than two decades, he was what he calls, “an ordinary diabetic”—one who dutifully followed doctor’s orders. Despite his diligence with maintaining the disease, the complications from his diabetes worsened over the years, and like many diabetics in similar circumstances, he faced death at a very early age. Though he was indeed still alive, the quality of his life wasn’t good, and by the time he reached his twenties and thirties, many of his body’s systems began to deteriorate.
In October 1969, Bernstein’s life turned around when he came across an advertisement in the trade journal Lab World. It was for a new blood sugar meter that would give a reading in 1 minute, using a single drop of blood. The device was intended for nighttime emergency staff at hospitals to use to distinguish between an unconscious diabetic and an unconscious drunk. 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.
He then began to measure his blood sugar about 5 times each day, and soon realized that the levels were on a roller coaster. To even out his blood sugars, he adjusted his insulin regimen from one injection a day to two, and experimented with his diet by cutting down on carbohydrates. However, three years after he began measuring his own blood sugar levels, his complications were still progressing, so he researched scientific articles about the disease. What he found was astonishing: complications from diabetes had repeatedly been prevented, and even reversed, in animals. Not through exercise, but through normalizing blood sugars! This was an incredible revelation, since all of diabetes treatment during that time was heavily focused in other directions, such as low-fat diets, preventing severe hypoglycemia, and preventing ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal extreme high blood sugar condition.
Bernstein set out to achieve normal blood sugars, and within a year had refined his insulin and diet regimen to the point that they were normal around the clock. After years of chronic fatigue and debilitating complications, he 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.
Now the trick was to get the word about his discovery out to doctors and those suffering from the disease, which proved an uphill battle. Bernstein knew that there were millions of diabetics whose quality of life could vastly improve, if only he had the means to reach them. As a layperson he had difficulty gaining the attention of those in the medical field, so in 1977, he decided to give up his job and become a physician—”I couldn’t beat ‘em, so I had to join ‘em.”
At 45 years old, Richard Bernstein entered the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1983 he opened his own medical practice near his home in Mamaroneck, New York. Today, Dr. Bernstein treats hundreds of patients a year, helping them to create effective personalized treatment plans that allow them to lead normal lives.