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Caring for Your Diabetic Feet

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Diabetes is the leading cause of foot amputations not related to injuries. Each year, thousands of diabetics have to learn to live without one of their precious limbs.

Diabetes is the leading cause of foot amputations not related to injuries. Each year, thousands of diabetics have to learn to live without one of their precious limbs.

Two conditions that go hand-in-hand with diabetes put your feet at risk. The first is poor circulation, which is the result of hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Poor circulation limits your body's healing capabilities, so if you were to get a cut, blister, corn or callus on your foot, the risk of infection would be higher.

The second condition is peripheral neuropathy in simpler terms, a loss of feeling in the extremities, mainly the feet from nerve damage caused by high blood sugar, the hallmark of diabetes. Having peripheral neuropathy means that you may not feel that cut or blister not even when it's infected. A small wound can easily turn into an ugly foot ulcer.

So now what? Simple: you've got to eliminate or minimize these two conditions by tackling their underlying cause, the diabetes itself. Adopt a diet high in fibre and low in sugar (see "Diabetic Discipline"). The soluble fibre in foods such as beans, fruits and vegetables helps to reduce blood sugar levels, thereby reducing the risk of peripheral neuropathy.

Don't smoke; it greatly increases your risk of developing arteriosclerosis. Almost immediately after you smoke a cigarette, the blood flow to your extremities is impaired.

Exercise regularly. Start with a brisk 30-minute walk, three to five times a week. It will lower your blood pressure, and combined with the right diet, help you to lose weight too. Consult with a fitness professional on how to include some weight-training moves; muscles use glucose, thereby lowering the amount in your bloodstream. Exercise also does a rather amazing thing for your circulation. It promotes the growth of new blood vessels, creating new routes for blood to flow around areas that are constricted or blocked.

Several supplements have proven effective in the battle against diabetes. Consult with a naturopath to ensure you're getting adequate amounts of the following nutrients, which can offer your feet some added protection:

  • Chromium: helps cells take up glucose, thereby reducing the amount in your bloodstream. It also promotes weight loss and lowers cholesterol levels, thereby reducing arteriosclerosis. Chromium-rich foods include egg yolks, molasses (insist on organic herbicides are used to defoliate sugar stalks and residue ends up in the molasses, not the sugar), hard cheeses like Gruy?, Emmental and Parmesan and whole wheat bread.

  • Vitamin C: helps in the repair of wounds.

  • B vitamins and vitamin E: help prevent nerve damage and can reduce peripheral neuropathy.

  • Potassium: reduces the risk of arteriosclerosis.

  • A naturopath may recommend other supplements as well. For example, the herb ginkgo biloba can help to improve circulation and prevent arteriosclerosis.

Give your feet some extra attention as well. Wash them daily in lukewarm water and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes. Never soak your feet; it makes the skin dry and more likely to crack. Examine them daily for cuts, blisters, corns, calluses and swollen pressure points from shoes. If you spot something unusual, consult a qualified health professional because a minor problem can quickly become major.

Put lotion on dry feet, but not between the toes because the skin can break down there very easily. File your toenails; don't cut or clip them because it's easy to accidentally break the skin with clippers or scissors.

Wear closed shoes or slippers as your feet are more likely to become injured if they are unprotected. Wear leather shoes. They allow the feet to breathe; a sweaty foot is more prone to problems.

Always wear socks to minimize rubbing inside your shoes. Rotate your shoes by wearing a different pair every day. Wear new shoes for only two hours at a time until you are sure there are no pressure points or problem areas.

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