Rethinking Diabetes: Natural Approaches to Support Lifestyle Changes
Jun 02, 2014 01:26PM
By Kris Urquhart
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25.8 million people in the United States, or 8.3 percent of the total population, have diabetes (7 million of these undiagnosed), and it is the seventh leading cause of death in thiscountry. In addition, an estimated 79 million American adults aged 20 years or older have prediabetes.
Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy. The food we eat is turned into glucose (blood sugar). Insulin is made by the pancreas and is needed to move glucose into the cells where it is later used for energy. In a person with diabetes their body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This condition will cause glucose to build up in the blood that, if left untreated, can lead to serious health complications.
People with diabetes may exhibit some (or even none) of the typical symptoms including frequent urination, excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss, extreme hunger, sudden vision changes, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, feeling very tired much of the time, very dry skin, sores that are slow to heal, and/or more infections than usual
Type 1 diabetes, which is defined by the body not making insulin, accounts for just 5 to 10 percent of cases and is most often found in children and young adults. Type 2 diabetes makes up the other 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases so it is the most common form. It usually occurs slowly over time. When the body does not respond correctly to insulin (insulin resistance) the blood sugar cannot get into the cells to be stored for energy. As a result, the level of sugar (glucose) builds up in the blood (hyperglycemia). Treatment for type 2 typically includes diet control, exercise, home blood glucose testing, and in some cases, oral medication and/or insulin.
When making lifestyle changes to prevent, or as a result of, diabetes, consider integrating some natural options. Finding a physician that can work with each patient individually, tailoring a treatment plan, can provide necessary direction and support. Doctors who specialize in functional medicine offer an integrative, science based approach. They treat illness and promote wellness by considering the unique aspects of each patient and tailoring interventions to restore balance. They typically offer an integrative mix of Western medicine and holistic options.
One of the lifestyle components that must be addressed is the fitness of the patient. Physical activity has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of diabetes. Increased fat makes it harder for your body to use insulin properly. When you follow a regular exercise regimen, your body starts responding to insulin, helping to reduce your blood glucose.
Stress is one of the major reasons for diabetes. It increases the secretion of glucagon (a hormone responsible for increasing blood glucose levels) in the body. The consistent practice of yoga and a few minutes of meditation can help reduce stress in the mind and protect the body from its adverse effects. This in turn can reduce the amount of glucagon and improve the action of insulin.
Qigong is a healing art involving meditation, controlled breathing, and movement exercises. In a study at Bastyr University, Qigong therapy for 12 weeks resulted in significant reductions in fasting glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes and demonstrated trends toward improvement in insulin resistance.
Acupuncture has been used in the treatment of diabetes to reduce blood glucose levels and normalize endocrine functions. Studies demonstrate acupuncture’s beneficial impact on glucose levels as well as on neuropathic pain in the extremities.
A study reported in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism shows the potential for a Chinese herbal mixture called Tianqi to help people with prediabetes. Tianqi is a capsule containing 10 Chinese herbal medicines including Astragali Radix and Coptidis Rhizoma, which have been previously shown to improve glucose levels. Results showed that Tianqi reduced the risk of diabetes among participants by 32.1 percent compared to the placebo group.
Alternatively, Ginseng, available in American and Chinese varieties, is known for its immune-boosting and disease-fighting benefits. Researchers have found that ginseng slows carbohydrate absorption; increases cells’ ability to use glucose; and increases insulin secretion from the pancreas. A team from the University of Toronto has repeatedly demonstrated that ginseng capsules lower blood glucose 15 to 20 percent compared to placebo pills.
A person with diabetes either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This condition will cause glucose to build up in the blood that, if left untreated, can lead to serious health complications.
Traditionally we think to visit a chiropractor for back and neck issues. Yet, research conducted on a diabetic patient in 2006 has indicated that chiropractic treatment combined with a nutritional and exercise program can indeed help negate the effects of adult on-set diabetes. The case study published in the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research, followed a 48-year-old man who had recently been diagnosed by his doctor with an on-set of adult diabetes. After having his condition monitored during the treatment for just one month, it was determined that the patient’s glucose levels were stable enough that he would not need insulin at the time. The theory is that, as chiropractic care treats the spine, which is the gateway between the nervous system and the internal organs, correcting the subluxations (misalignments in the spine) assists in mediating blood sugar and glucose.
According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are encouraged to choose a variety of fiber-containing foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, because they provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other substances important for good health. Here is a breakdown of some of the nutrition all-stars for those managing diabetes
Raw Food: A raw food diet is one largely based on raw vegetables, fruit and legumes. Proponents of the lifestyle believe that this diet provides stabilized blood glucose levels, higher energy levels, better digestion and a reduced risk of diabetes.
Chili Pepper: What makes hot chili peppers and other peppers hot is the compound capsaicin. Capsaicin has been shown to have an impact on blood glucose levels. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed when the meal contains chili pepper the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar after a meal is reduced. When it is a regular part of the diet, insulin requirements drop even lower. Incorporate half of a fresh habanero pepper into your meal or use chili pepper or cayenne pepper to season snacks and meals throughout the day.
Legumes: Many studies have demonstrated that beans are a powerful ally in controlling blood sugar. A meal with legumes does not cause a sharp rises in blood sugar and blood insulin levels. Instead, the rise in blood sugar is slow and not very high, which leads to a much lesser rise in blood insulin levels.
Green Leafy Vegetables: Eating one and one half servings of green leafy vegetables (such as Swiss chard, mustard greens, and kale) per day has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14%. In addition, spinach is high in magnesium, which may be helpful in lowering risk of developing diabetes for those with prediabetes.
Grains: Whole grains are very high in fiber, especially insoluble fiber. Certain grains, like oats and barley, are also high in soluble fiber. Since both types of fiber are helpful for people with diabetes, a good mix of whole grains is recommended.
Fruit: Fructose when it is eaten in the form of portion-controlled fresh fruit does not cause blood sugar levels to rise as much as refined sugar. However, dried fruits and fruit juices contain a high concentration of sugar that should be avoided.
Nuts: Almonds have been shown to decrease post-meal blood sugar surges. Eating just 3 ounces with a meal that includes a high-glycemic index food can reduce the rise in blood sugar levels after eating. Walnuts are nutrient rich and help regulate inflammation and control blood pressure.
Cherries: Anthocyanins, which occurs naturally in cherries and other red and purple fruits and vegetables, can boost insulin and may help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, suggests laboratory research published in the January 2005 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Fish: Fish are very high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be helpful in diabetes. However, the way it is prepared is important. Consider grilling, baking or sautéing. Fish with high levels of healthy omega-3 fats include albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring and lake trout. Studies have shown that type 2 diabetes occurs much less frequently in populations that eat fish regularly compared to populations that don’t eat much fish.
Olive Oil: Studies have shown that meals containing olive oil have better effects on blood sugar than meals low in fat. In addition, olive oil is packed with monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Emerging research suggests MUFAs help control blood sugar, reduce insulin resistance, and fight belly fat.
Cinnamon: Studies have shown that compounds in cinnamon stimulate insulin receptors, as well as, inhibit an enzyme that inactivates them resulting in increasing the cells’ ability to use glucose. People with liver damage should be careful, however, because large amounts of cinnamon may increase liver problems.
Garlic: Studies show garlic is effective in increasing the amount of insulin released and improving glucose tolerance. It also has the potential to protect your heart from diabetes induced cardiomyopathy
Increased fat makes it harder for your body to use insulin properly. When you follow a regular exercise regimen, your body starts responding to insulin, helping to reduce your blood glucose
HELPFUL HERBS & MINERALS
Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency is not uncommon in people with diabetes, and it can worsen high blood sugar and insulin resistance. Some studies suggest that supplementing with magnesium may improve insulin sensitivity. Have your physician check to see if you are deficient before supplementing with magnesium.
According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are encouraged to choose a variety of fiber containing foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, because they provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other substances important for good health.
Prickly Pear Cactus: The ripe fruit of this cactus has been shown in some small studies to lower blood sugar levels. It contains fiber and pectin, which can lower blood glucose by decreasing the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestine. You may be able to fi nd the fruit in your grocery store or as a juice or powder at health food stores.
Fenugreek: Fenugreek, an ingredient of curries and other Indian recipes, helps to lower blood sugar by slowing down digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. It has been shown to lower blood glucose levels and improve glucose tolerance.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA): High blood sugar can contribute to a buildup of free radicals and can lead to nerve damage and other problems. ALA is an antioxidant that neutralizes many types of free radicals and may also help muscle cells take up blood sugar. In a German study, 40 adults took either an ALA supplement or a placebo for four weeks. Afterwards, the ALA group had improved their insulin sensitivity 27 percent. The placebo group showed no improvement. Other studies have shown a decrease in nerve pain, numbness, and burning.
Diabetes and sleep problems are often found together. Diabetes can cause sleep loss, and there is evidence that not sleeping well can increase your risk of developing diabetes. People who are tired will eat more because they want to get energy from somewhere, often consuming food that will spike blood sugar levels.
During a 1999 Lancet study at the University of Chicago, the researchers monitored the blood sugar levels of 11 healthy young men who were allowed varying amounts of sleep which included a six-night stretch of only four hours of sleep per night. When tested during this period, subjects took 40 percent longer than normal to regulate their blood sugar levels following a high-carbohydrate meal; their ability to secrete insulin and to respond to insulin both decreased by about 30 percent. The effects went away once the men were back on their normal sleep schedule.
Experts also believe that chronic sleep deprivation may lead to elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Elevated cortisol may in turn promote insulin resistance, in which the body can’t use the hormone insulin properly to help move glucose into cells for energy.
Massage is known to promote relaxation. By calming the nervous system, massage can encourage a restful state bringing a sense of well-being and reduce stress. It also increases the circulation of the blood and lymph, facilitating the transport of oxygen and other nutrients into the body’s tissues allowing more efficient uptake of insulin to the cells. Elevated blood sugars can cause a thickening of connective tissue affecting mobility. Massage works directly with the connective tissues encouraging flexibility and health of the myofascial system.
MAKING THE CHANGE
Lifestyle change that incorporates physical activity, a balanced diet, and stress reduction is the first step to manage blood sugar levels. Integrating some natural therapies such as qi gong, yoga, chiropractic treatments and massage can increase health benefits and provide additional support. Be sure and discuss any herbs or minerals you are interested in incorporating with your managing physician and a registered herbalist or Doctor of Oriental Medicine, especially if you are on medication. Combining herbs and or medications that are intended to lower sugar levels could drive levels too low.
Finding a physician that can work with each patient individually, tailoring a treatment plan, can provide necessary direction and support.