Practical lifestyle habits such as eating a healthy diet, losing excess weight, and exercising regularly can help control diabetes.
Simple, effective treatments can make a major difference in diabetes management. Many of these are practical lifestyle habits that can result in successful control of different types of diabetes. Monitoring blood sugar, taking prescribed medication, eating a healthy diet, losing weight, and following a regular exercise program are just the beginning.
Other useful tips to effectively manage different types of diabetes include learning to handle stress and getting better sleep.
Complementary and natural therapies, such as yoga and relaxation techniques, are becoming more popular adjuncts to diabetes management practices and are being increasingly researched with many positive results.
Natural herbs and supplements purported to help diabetic conditions are also being investigated. With more extensive research, they may prove to be more than just promising.
Diabetes in a nutshell
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease caused when the body cannot make insulin or effectively use it. Resulting high glucose levels can cause damage to the body, organs, and tissues.
Disabling diabetes complications
- cardiovascular problems
- nerve damage (neuropathy)
- kidney damage
- eye damage
- foot damage
- hearing impairment
- skin conditions
- Alzheimer’s disease
Type 1 diabetes
Five to 10 percent of diabetics have type 1, when pancreas beta cells are mistakenly attacked and killed by the immune system. Very little or no insulin is released into the body, building up glucose in the blood. Type 1 is usually diagnosed in children, adolescents, and sometimes in adults.
- family member who had type 1 diabetes
- environmental factors
- exposure to some viral infections
(may occur suddenly)
- extreme thirst
- frequent urination
- sudden vision changes
- sugar in urine
- fruity, sweet, or winelike breath odour
- increased appetite
- sudden weight loss
- heavy breathing
- stupor, unconsciousness
Type 2 diabetes
Ninety percent of diabetics have type 2 diabetes, where their pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or their body does not effectively use the insulin released. Type 2 usually develops in adults, but sometimes in children.
- family history of diabetes
- physical inactivity
- increasing age
- high blood pressure
- impaired glucose tolerance
- gestational diabetes history
- poor nutrition during pregnancy
(often nonexistent or gradual)
- increased thirst
- increased hunger
- dry mouth
- frequent urination
- unexplained weight loss
- blurred vision
- loss of consciousness (rare)
There is no known cure for diabetes, in spite of recent advancements in research and treatment. However, it is possible, through maintaining positive daily lifestyle habits, for some to achieve what is referred to as a “reversal” of type 2 diabetes.
“The term ‘reversal’ is used when people can go off medication but still must engage in a lifestyle program in order to stay off,” according to Ann Albright, director of diabetes translation at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that occurs in 2 to 4 percent of all non-Aboriginal pregnancies and involves an increased risk of both mother and child developing type 2 diabetes.
- family diabetes history
- age older than 25
- previous gestational diabetes
- having delivered a baby that weighed more than 4.1 kg
- high blood sugar levels
- if unknowingly living with diabetes: increased thirst, urination, hunger, and blurred vision
Prediabetes happens when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Nearly half of people with prediabetes develop type 2.
- unhealthy diet
- lack of physical activity
- type 2 diabetes family history
- previous gestational diabetes
- low birth weight
- Watch for signs of type 2 diabetes, including increased thirst, urination, blurred vision, and fatigue.
Get tested for diabetes
It’s important to visit a health care professional and arrange to be screened if you have warning signs or suspect you might have a diabetic condition
- have diabetes risk factors or high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of heart disease
- are over 45
- have a body mass index higher than 25, regardless of age
One of a variety of blood sugar tests will be prescribed, depending on the type of diabetic condition suspected.
Taking care of diabetes
The main goals of diabetes management are to control blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. These goals are accomplished by
- monitoring blood sugar
- taking prescribed insulin and/or oral medication
- eating a natural, healthy diet planned with the help of a nutritionist
- engaging in a program of regular physical activity
- losing weight
- reducing stress and improving sleep
Monitoring blood glucose
Your health care practitioner will advise if and how you should be measuring your blood sugar. There are some general guidelines that determine who should monitor their blood glucose regularly. They include those who are
- taking insulin
- having a hard time controlling blood glucose levels
- having low blood glucose levels
- having low blood glucose levels without the usual warning signs
- having ketones from high blood glucose levels
Who needs diabetes medication?
Type 1 diabetes: Those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes must take insulin for the rest of their lives in order to keep blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. The type of insulin and the method of administration can include injection or an insulin pump, as well as other prescribed medications determined by individual needs.
Type 2 diabetes: Those with type 2 diabetes may be able to manage this condition with healthy eating and exercise alone, though insulin and/or oral medications may be required to meet required blood glucose levels.
Gestational diabetes: This is often treated with proper diet and exercise. Insulin may be prescribed if blood sugar targets are not being achieved or if the baby is becoming too large.
Prediabetes: Losing weight, eating a healthy diet, and becoming more active are the main ways to treat prediabetes, and also to ensure that type 2 diabetes doesn’t develop.
Natural nutrition with calories that count
A diabetes-friendly diet can control blood sugar with healthy, whole food choices. It doesn’t have to be restrictive, but should be full of nutrients and low in calories and fat.
Keeping calories low keeps blood glucose from rising too high, which can cause hyperglycemia or complications such as nerve, kidney, and heart damage. Weight loss can help those with type 2 diabetes control blood glucose more easily and reap other health benefits.
It is wise to consult a naturopath and nutritionist to create an eating plan with the right foods, portions, and scheduling to manage blood sugar levels.
The diabetes-friendly diet
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar. These include white bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and sugary drinks, including pop and fruit juice, which rapidly increase blood sugar.
- Choose healthy carbohydrates rich in fibre: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
- Eat more fish, which has less fat than meat and poultry. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health. Avoid fried fish and fish that contains high levels of mercury.
- Moderately consume healthy fats in foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and oils such as extra-virgin olive and peanut, to help lower cholesterol levels.
The importance of exercise
Regular physical activity or exercise is extremely important in the management of diabetic conditions. It lowers blood glucose levels, promotes weight loss, enhances fitness, and reduces stress. Studies have shown that exercise can make a notable difference in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes, improving the body’s reaction to insulin and decreasing blood lipids.
Conventional exercise such as walking, aerobic exercise, and resistance training have proven beneficial for diabetes, as have movement therapies including yoga, qi gong, and tai chi.
Yoga for diabetes
Yoga has been shown to be beneficial for type 2 diabetes in particular, decreasing risk factors and improving outcomes.
Yoga physical therapist Shelly Prosko says that while there is no specific diabetes yoga routine, it is an excellent holistic practice that can aid management of the condition.
“A safe, regular yoga practice and lifestyle that consists of movement, asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing practices), and meditation has been shown to reduce negative health effects associated with all types of diabetes, as well as risk factors for type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, and prediabetes,” says Prosko. “A yoga lifestyle can address risk factors like [excess] body weight as well as poor stress management and sleep patterns and uncontrolled high blood pressure.”
Qi gong and tai chi
A recent controlled research study in Australia demonstrated that participants with elevated blood glucose levels who regularly practised qi gong for a period of 12 weeks had reduced weight and waist circumference as well as increased leg strength and insulin resistance.
Another study followed type 2 diabetes patients to measure the effects of adhering to a six-month tai chi program on glucose control and quality of life. Not only did these parameters significantly improve, but the patients involved in the tai chi program also showed improvement in their overall self-care activities.
Managing stress is important for diabetes management. When the body is stressed, hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol are produced, raising blood sugar levels, which diabetics cannot naturally control without medication because they have little or no insulin.
It’s vital with a diabetic condition to recognize stress and how it feels. Keep a journal, making note of stress levels when blood sugar rises.
During stressful periods, it’s important to keep eating a healthy diet and to continue a regular exercise routine to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. It’s also important to learn methods to help you relax. It might also be a good idea to visit a therapist to re-evaluate how you react to stressful events and learn to see them in a different way.
Relaxation techniques that may prove helpful in combatting stress include
- meditation and mindfulness practice
- guided imagery
- progressive relaxation therapy and deep breathing
“Adequate sleep and sleep hygiene can also play a role in diabetes,” says naturopath Alexa Rauscher. “Studies have shown that inadequate sleep decreases the sensitivity of the body to insulin, affecting blood sugar levels. Both the amount and length of time are important: going to sleep no later than 10 pm, and sleeping for a minimum of seven to nine hours.”
Other helpful sleep techniques include
- avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the evening
- trying a pre-sleep ritual before bed, such as meditation or aromatherapy
- keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature
- avoiding eating right before bedtime
Herbs and supplements
If you are interested in adding these or other natural supplements to your health program, visit your naturopath, nutritionist, or herbalist to determine the correct choices and dosages for optimal effectiveness and to prevent interaction with other medications.
- alpha-lipoic acid
- coenzyme Q10
- vitamin E
- omega-3 fatty acids