Seven Courses of Action
Diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases affecting our population; currently about one quarter of Canadians have it. Diabetes is a disease of impaired blood sugar metabolism. The sugar from your food does not make it into your cells properly. This results in blood that is high in sugar (glucose) resulting in blood being thick and harder for your heart to pump. Diabetes causes an increased risk of multiple diseases including stroke, sexual dysfunction, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, heart disease as well as blindness.
There are three types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes is when you are born with impaired glucose metabolism because your pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes (over 90% of all cases) happens gradually over time and is caused by a combination of lifestyle and genetics, resulting in insulin resistance in your body’s cells. Type 2 diabetes usually develops after age 40, but as we become more sedentary and obese the trend is for earlier onset. The third type, gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and unlike type1 and type 2 can sometimes go away on its own (after the pregnancy).
There is no cure for diabetes. Proper management of diet, exercise and supplementation can not only manage the disease, but may prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. Proper management also reduces your risk of other diseases.
By controlling the amount, type and timing of carbohydrates from food and drinks, you can control how much sugar is released into your blood and thereby not overpower your metabolism.
As a general rule try avoiding refined foods and endeavour to eat foods in their most whole form (e.g. oranges instead of orange juice, corn on the cob instead of creamed corn, whole grain rice instead of white rice). The rationale is that when in whole form, all the nutrients are present, especially fiber which helps sugar metabolism.
Ideally, make healthy food choices (i.e. the apple instead of the donut) and eat multiple smaller meals to minimize or avoid blood sugar spiking. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and lean proteins is ideal for virtually everyone, especially diabetics.
Coffee has an interesting part to play. Scientists aren’t sure why, but moderate (not heavy) daily coffee consumption seems to help prevent type 2 diabetes. They found that drinking up to 4 cups (caffeinated or decaffeinated) was associated with up to 50% reduction in developing the disease.
Physical activity is vital for diabetes management. Exercise causes your cells to become more sensitive to insulin, allowing the insulin to work better. Additionally your cells actively pull some glucose from your blood while you are exercising, beyond what insulin transports. Ideally you want to incorporate physical activity throughout each day in addition to dedicated exercise time. Park far away from the grocery store, take stairs instead of escalators and elevators, walk on all trips less than ½ km, etc.
First off is fiber. Diabetics should ensure everything they eat and drink has fiber in it. If the food/drink is low in fiber, then add it! Make it easy by choosing fiber supplements made with Instantized Inulin. They can be added to any liquid or soft food without changing the taste or texture. Ensure the supplement is at least 95% fiber (no food or supplement is 100% fiber).
Multivitamin & Multimineral
Diabetics are often low in one or more nutrients. To try to avoid this by taking a good quality daily multivitamin. Avoid gimmicky or new and improved products. Ideally pick a multivitamin that is pure and has no sugars, sodium or artificial ingredients. Multivitamins that are both vegan and hypoallergenic have the fewest additives.
A common spice, cinnamon, has been studied to test its ability to lower blood sugar. Multiple studies have shown positive blood sugar lowering effects to varying levels of success and at different dosage levels. Cinnamon has been shown to not only reduce glucose, but also total cholesterol and triglycerides. These reductions are very good, diabetic or not. Additionally we know from thousands of years of uncontrolled use that cinnamon is safe. However, do not just pour cinnamon on to a spoon and swallow. Taking cinnamon this way is dangerous. Instead, enjoy cinnamon by adding it to foods you eat (I am particularly fond of sour apples with sharp cheese and cinnamon). Additionally you can use cinnamon capsules or liquid extract with each meal.
Chromium is an essential mineral your body requires in minute amounts, to function. It is found naturally in foods, but in amounts too small to be therapeutic. There have been over 500 trials and papers on the effects of supplementing with chromium, and diabetes. Some had positive results, some mixed results and some showed no benefit in controlling diabetes. However, at low doses, use of chromium appears to be safe for most adults. So there is no real harm in taking chromium supplements according to label directions.
Although mainly used for eye health and proper vision, bilberry can be a powerful tool in combating damage from diabetes. Bilberry contains a powerful class of antioxidants (both in fruit and leaves) called anthocyanidins. These antioxidants help prevent damage to tiny blood vessels that can result in nerve pain and blindness associated with diabetes. Additionally bilberry has a mild glucose lowering effect.
Despite the popular use of ginseng to improve glucose control and treat type 2 diabetes, there is unfortunately no strong evidence that proves oral use of ginseng or ginsenoside can yield such benefit.
If you decide you would like to try a more natural therapy, don't stop taking your doctor prescribed medications. There are no treatments - alternative or conventional - to cure diabetes. Discuss with your doctor the use of alternative therapies in conjunction with your current therapy to ensure they won't cause adverse reactions or interact with your current treatment.
Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PhD in Microbiology.