Rethinking the Diabetes Dilemma
Alternatives Expand Upon Conventional Therapies Diet and Exercise Play Key Roles
by James Rouse
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 23.6 million people in the United States, or 7.8 percent of the total population, have diabetes (5.7 million of these undiagnosed), and it remains the sixth leading cause of death in this country. The good news is that there are natural treatment alternatives.
The lynchpin of diabetes is insulin, a key hormone that allows glucose (sugar) to be converted into energy. The onset of diabetes indicates that the body is experiencing a shortage of insulin and/or decreased ability to use it.
Type 1 diabetes, which is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin, usually manifests in children and adults under 30. It accounts for only five percent of cases. Type 2 diabetes, in which the body fails to respond appropriately to the presence of insulin and to properly absorb glucose from the blood, accounts for 95 percent of incidences, generally occurring after age 40.
If left untreated over time, either type can lead to further health complications, including diseases of the heart, eyes and kidneys, plus blindness, nerve damage and kidney failure.
Today’s conventional medical treatment of Type 2 diabetes typically starts with lifestyle and dietary changes, including aerobic and resistance exercise and avoidance of excess carbohydrates, sweets and starches. If necessary, a glucose-lowering medication may be added.
Complementary natural treatment of Type 2 diabetes also begins with a more nutritional diet and exercise plan, managed by a nutrition-savvy medical doctor, naturopath, certified nutritionist, holistic nurse practitioner or dietician. Maintaining a healthy weight and controlling blood sugar are essential.
A Natural Prescription
Following a diet based on low glycemic carbohydrates, adequate protein and good fats is key.
Examples of good carbs include: legumes and beans, whole wheat, barley, brown rice, quinoa, apples, apricots, grapefruit, cherries, plums, pears and berries. High glycemic carbs to be avoided include (but are not limited to) donuts, white rice and white flour products, cake, cookies and dried dates.
Healthy proteins include lean chicken and turkey, wild salmon, grass-fed beef and buffalo, tofu, tempeh and eggs. Good sources of healthy fats are olive, flax seed and hemp seed oils.
A high-fiber diet is also vital in improving blood sugar and insulin response, because low fiber diets have been associated with increased risk for diabetes. Foods to include are whole grains, nuts, seeds and dark green, leafy vegetables.
Research from the University of Helsinki, Finland, further suggests that limiting cow’s milk may be beneficial, especially for infants and children. A study of children born to a diabetic parent found that they were susceptible to diabetes later in life after exposure to cow’s milk as youngsters.
Chromium may help lower blood glucose levels in cases of Type 2 diabetes, with the most recent study from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. A typical dose is 200 micrograms daily.
Magnesium is also important, as Harvard University scientists discovered a significant inverse association between magnesium intake and diabetes risk. A large population-based study in Taiwan, published in Magnesium Research, showed that adding magnesium to drinking water led to a lower risk of death from Type 2 diabetes.
The best sources of magnesium are amaranth, sunflower seeds, quinoa, spinach, wild rice, tofu, almonds, halibut, brown rice, white beans and avocado. If these foods are not regularly on the menu, consider a magnesium supplement. A typical daily dose begins with 500 to 750 milligrams (mg), although this may be reduced in the event of diarrhea or loose stools.
Zinc also may assist the body’s use of insulin. Suggested dosage is 30 mg a day, balanced with 2 mg copper.
Antioxidant vitamins (A, C, E, beta-carotene) and B complex vitamins, as well as other antioxidant nutrients from superfoods such as green tea, blueberries and pomegranates, may help prevent diabetes-related nerve damage, according to research published in the Bratislava Medical Journal and Diabetes Care.
In addition, studies of calcium and vitamin D have shown some initial promise in middle-aged and older women in warding off metabolic syndrome, a known diabetes precursor. (Reports in Menopause, Current Drug Targets and Diabetes Care.)
Finally, a host of scientific journals support the helpfulness of certain herbs. Bilberry and Gingko biloba may help prevent or delay diabetic-related eye damage. Gymnema sylvestre, fenugreek and bitter melon have been shown to help control blood sugar levels.
Physical activity, which certainly helps reduce weight, may also help in regulating overall blood glucose. Exercise facilitates circulation, while working to prevent some of the complications associated with diabetes, including peripheral vascular and heart disease. It’s recommended that diabetes sufferers have a snack just prior to and immediately following exercising to help maintain stable blood sugar levels. James Rouse is a naturopathic doctor, entrepreneur, Ironman triathlete and wellness media personality, best known on the West Coast for his Optimum Wellness TV segments. Learn more at OptimumWellness.com.