Skip to content

Wellness Practitioner and Nutrition Activist, Ian Macfarlane on reversing diabetes through nutrition

In honour of World Diabetes Day, we chat to the man behind a groundbreaking discovery in the fight against diabetes. Together with nutritionists, credited researchers and doctors, they have successfully reversed the chronic disease.

Glamour: Please talk us through the events leading up to this groundbreaking discovery?

Ian Macfarlane: If you can call observing a timeless truth a discovery, then maybe yes. I have been running wellness centres since 1993 in London and Cape Town after studying politics at Oxford University. In 2012 my wife Dawn, a plant-based nutritionist for 30+ years, convinced me of the health as well as spiritual benefits of becoming a ‘healthy vegan’. Aboard the Holistic Holiday at sea trip in 2014 for our belated honeymoon, basically a floating university, she then introduced me to pioneers in the industry such as Prof Colin Campbell, Drs Greger, Esselstyn, and Neal Barnard* to name a few. It was during this journey that the idea sparked to reconnect the science of healthy plant-based lifestyles with the ancient wisdoms of Africa’s Whole Food Plant-based (WFPB) traditional lifestyles that support us in repairing, healing and even reversing chronic diseases. All food produces some inflammation in our bodies but meat and dairy are actually the worst culprits. These products were never part of the traditional pre-colonial staple diet ,(rather meat was used very sparingly for ceremonial or special occasions) and our program guides participants in how to switch from animal-based diets back to oil-free plant-powered diets in a convenient way so our bodies heal while our daily food remains delicious, accessible and most importantly affordable.

We then began Ubuntu Trust NPO in 2013 to empower communities, especially vulnerable women to activate and promote a healthy lifestyle change to improve human health and heal our environment. By 2018 Ubuntu was developing working with DoH and DoSD and we produced SETA-aligned training materials for the Community Plant-Based Chef Training project for the Western Cape DoH Wellness Unit (WOW!) impacting over 1200 Capetonians and embedding WFPB knowledge in the community.

Our current Ubuntu 21 days diabetes reversal program began in 2020 when I issued a personal challenge to Premier Alan Winde to reverse his 12-year diabetic condition. He readily accepted but issued a reverse challenge to create a project that extends the benefits to many others while recording and researching the stories of any healing journeys along the way. Six months later, we began our first 21 day reversal group with 10 participants and began filming our forthcoming documentary ‘Back to our Roots – Healing Africa’s Diabetes.’ Ubuntu is changing the world one vegan at a time, and we can’t wait to share this discovery with the world.

In 2021 Ubuntu initiated Africa’s first plant-based research and our academic collaborators NWU and Physicians Association for Nutrition (PAN) conducted their own independent analysis and research titled: ‘Assessing the Implementability of the Ubuntu 21 Day Diabetes Reversal Program’ the findings of which will be presented by PAN (MD.) Dr. Nanine Wyma at COP27 this Thursday 17th at 9.15-10.30 am which skilfully links the health co-benefits of plant-based food system transformations for climate change.

To watch the live presentation of the study results, register here:

So the Ubuntu Diabetes Reversal Program is about re-discovering our roots and embracing the ancient wisdoms of Africa’s Whole Food Plant-Based (WFPB) traditional lifestyles.

Glamour: What sort of conversations have emanated around it?

IM: We are living in a time of enormous change, with so many fascinating debates playing out across our WhatsApp group chats, it is evident that there was a great need to address the myths and stigmas around veganism. Many conversations came up such as what about past African norms & traditions, Gender, Justice, Equality, Class, Culture, Health, Identity, Wealth, Status, Access, Affordability and whether Ubuntu is a cult? I would go so far as to say these healing narratives—whether emanating directly from one's personal journey or cultivated within our Ubuntu Wellness groups - are essential and diverse and nothing less than adversity and disease into health through embracing a plant-based or healthy vegan lifestyle.

Glamour: Considering that diabetes is a chronic disease, what does it mean to reverse it?

IM: Most chronic lifestyle diseases can be reversed through a WFPB diet and healthy lifestyle including connecting with nature, exercise and sound sleep. Reversal of diabetes by our definition requires both the fasted blood sugar range to be normal (within 5-6.5 mmol/l) and stable over time as well as for the patient to be 100% free of any diabetic medications.

One of our first program participants Pearl Mpange is now 19 months on the #UbuntuLifestyle, in excellent health with stable blood sugars and off all her diabetes medication. An incredible spa therapist, plant-based presenter, community pastor and Ubuntu Ambassadress, she was sponsored to COP27, the ‘Africa COP’ this week and is speaking about her experience today about her reversal on an intersectional panel titled “Livestock and feed crops impact women and communities: Achieving climate and gender justice through intersectional policies and programs” and will also be taking questions after the PAN/NWU research findings on Thursday.

Glamour: Does the patient stop taking medication or does this go hand in hand with the recommended diet?

IM: WFPB is a food as medicine lifestyle which reduces inflammation and allows the body’s natural wisdom to heal, repair and hopefully reverse chronic disease. Accordingly, our network of doctors trained in the Ubuntu protocol aim to de-prescribe medication as soon as the body’s self-healing activation kicks in.

While we cannot make any claims or promises for the program, to date every participant completing the 21 day program significantly reduced their medications and has experienced positive health outcomes.

Glamour: Nutrition plays an important role in our daily lives. How do we become more conscious of our food choices?

IM: Consciousness about the reality of food systems and how and who ends up on our plates is the essential challenge as well as the opportunity. Food choices have never been more important as humanity teeters on the brink of destruction having now entered the 6th extinction. We must cut through the capitalist advertising agendas promoting unsustainable and unhealthy foods and become aware of the Ubuntu interconnected nature of all life and the effects that our food choices have on our personal health as well as that of the planet. The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is more true than ever. We need to connect the dots: our food choices impact not only us, but also countless other species on our planet. In the words of the UN Secretary-General this week at COP27, “humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish: it is either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact.”

Image: Unsplash

Glamour: How do people living with diabetes access your program?

IM: If you are interested in de-prescribing medications, you have several options; the most affordable way to do so would be to purchase our book from Ubuntu at Cape Town Medi-Spa and then work closely with your own doctor or clinician if she feels comfortable to de-prescribe medications. We have several support options including Basic, Silver, Gold and Advanced(Spa Premium) which offer different levels of structured support including dedicated groups, meal prep and medical expertise. For staff wellness, there is a corporate offering. This is being piloted through a partnership with our retail partner Pick n Pay and will be available as a dedicated offering that also plays it forward for the greater community. We anticipate that once the program has been studied and proven effective, the government will implement it on a larger scale.

Glamour: Please share your message for World Diabetes Day?

IM: Please don’t feel resigned that you are unable to become fully and confidently in charge of your own body, mind and health. You can reverse your diabetes and most other lifestyle diseases too if you are willing to embrace a low oil WFPB healthy vegan lifestyle change and you can also be a healthy citizen as part of the broader solution for climate change. The good news is that there is enough scientific info out there to know its possible to reverse type 2 diabetes and there is support available to do so.

So why not Invite in the spirit of self-care and Ubuntu and try a medically monitored 21 day or longer 3, 6 or 12 month healing journey to reduce the daily inflammatory assault of wrong eating. We can be motivated by the joy of our innate healing process as our doctors de-prescribe our medications and extend this joy and self- love to others, the planet, climate and animals we share our precious and fragile earth with. It is not too late but we need to tackle our inertia and act now.

Glamour: Please add any information you may deem necessary...

Dr Barnard heads up the PCRM ( a group of over 12, 000 plant-based doctors and conducted the world’s first research comparing the benefits of healthy vegan diets in 2003 and will collaborate in the Ubuntu Wellness Institute’s future plant-based research efforts.

A new study in 2022 shows that 89 % of SA are struggling with either diabetes(22%) or pre-diabetes (67%)

To watch a short video about the (study) project, click here:

Share this article: