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Managing Diabetes

How important are diet and lifestyle?

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Managing Diabetes

By adopting diet and lifestyle strategies, patients with prediabetes can prevent diabetes, and those with diabetes can improve health.

Diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, is an area where diet and lifestyle changes shine as powerful medicine. Given that approximately 7 percent of Canadians have been diagnosed with diabetes, the importance of these strategies cannot be overstated.

By adopting specific diet and lifestyle strategies, patients with prediabetes can prevent diabetes from ever occurring. Likewise, patients diagnosed with diabetes can reduce complications and medication requirements—and in the early stages of the disease, even reverse their diagnosis.

Diabetes prevention programs

In the 1990s, two landmark studies assessed the use of diet and lifestyle strategies to prevent diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program and the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study examined intensive lifestyle changes in people with prediabetes.

These comprehensive programs involved individualized counselling aimed at reducing weight and total fat intake, while increasing fibre intake and physical activity.

Targets

In the Finnish study, participants were asked to

  • lose 5 percent of their initial body weight
  • limit fat intake to less than 30 percent of calories consumed
  • limit saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of calories consumed
  • increase fibre intake to at least 15 g per 1,000 calories
  • exercise for more than four hours per week

Results

At the end of three years, 11 percent of subjects in the lifestyle intervention group developed diabetes, compared to 23 percent of those in the placebo group. Overall, lifestyle changes reduced participants’ risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent.

Furthermore, when analyzed by how compliant subjects were in adhering to the program, those who met four out of five targets did not develop any cases of diabetes—a staggering outcome.

Based on the strength of these findings, many subsequent studies have successfully applied lifestyle interventions in other settings, such as in older adults, pregnant women, and various ethnic groups.

Take a naturopathic approach

This multimodal nutrition- and lifestyle-based strategy is the foundation of the naturopathic approach to diabetes. In addition, a selection of natural health products such as fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids, coenzyme Q10, chromium, and vitamin D may be used to further improve blood glucose control and/or related risk factors such as blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

Together, these strategies can help reduce diabetes risk, as well as medication requirements and complications for those who already have diabetes. Before beginning any treatment program, patients with diabetes should consult a health care practitioner for evaluation and individualized recommendations. 

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