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Diabetes Dilemma

Stemming a 21st-century epidemic

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Diabetes Dilemma

Diabetes is now considered a public health problem of enormous proportions. The most effective treatment of diabetes requires the utilization of lifestyle, dietary, and nutritional supplement strategies. Controlling blood sugar levels and promoting good health with natural medicine are quite simple.

Diabetes is now considered a public health problem of enormous proportions. Currently, more than two million Canadians live with diabetes, but that number is expected to rise considerably over the next decade because of increasing obesity rates (obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes).

Diabetes is associated with a 10- to 15-year shorter life expectancy, as it increases the risk for heart disease, strokes, and cancer. In addition, diabetes carries with it significant risks for serious complications such as blindness, the need for dialysis, and limb amputation. In economic terms, the burden of diabetes to the Canadian population is estimated to be $9 billion annually.

A Diabetes Primer

There are two major categories of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is associated with complete destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas that manufacture the hormone insulin. Individuals with type 1 diabetes will require lifelong insulin for the control of blood sugar levels. Five to 10 percent of all diabetics have type 1.

In type 2 diabetes, insulin levels are typically elevated, indicating a loss of sensitivity to insulin by the cells of the body. Approximately 90 percent of individuals with type 2 diabetes are obese. Obesity greatly reduces the sensitivity of cells to insulin.

The Need for Natural Medicine

Diabetes is a serious disorder that needs to be treated effectively. The best treatment for any disease is primary prevention. Can diabetes be prevented? While current conventional medical treatment has undoubtedly allowed many diabetics to live healthier and longer lives, the most effective treatment of diabetes and other blood sugar problems requires the utilization of lifestyle, dietary, and nutritional supplement strategies. Long-term studies have shown that relying on oral hypoglycemic drugs alone in the treatment of type 2 diabetes eventually fails. Natural medicine provides a more rational, long-term approach.

Goals of Diabetes Management

The goals of controlling blood sugar levels and promoting good health with natural medicine are quite simple:

  • to reduce after-meal elevations in blood sugar levels
  • to provide optimal nutrient status
  • to improve insulin function and sensitivity
  • to prevent nutritional and oxidative stress

Natural products are available to address each of these core goals. For example, a highly viscous, soluble-fibre supplement has been shown to enhance blood sugar control, decrease insulin levels, and reduce the number of calories absorbed by the body. The nutrient alpha-lipoic acid has been shown as effective in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy, and in stimulating the regeneration of nerve fibres. Various herbs have also shown considerable benefit; for example, extracts of Gymnema sylvestre have been shown to enhance glucose control through helping to increase production or activity of insulin.

Adapted from Murray, Michael T. and Michael Lyon, How to Prevent and Treat Diabetes with Natural Medicine (Riverhead, 2003).

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