Michael R. Lyon, MD, and Michael T. Murray, ND
Diabetes is one of the biggest drains of our societyâ??s resources â??both financial and human. The total economic toll of diabetes in Canada is an absolutely staggering excess of over $10 billion annually.
Diabetes is one of the biggest drains of our society’s resources –both financial and human. The total economic toll of diabetes in Canada is an absolutely staggering excess of over $10 billion annually.
Approximately one third of the nearly two million Canadians with diabetes are unaware that they have the disease. Many of these individuals first find out that they have diabetes when they develop one of its life-threatening complications such as heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease. The risk for death from these complications, among people with diabetes, is approximately four times greater than for people without diabetes. Diabetes also carries with it significant risks for serious complications such as blindness, the need for dialysis, and circulatory problems, which can lead to limb amputation.
A Diabetes Primer
Diabetes is divided into two major categories: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is associated with complete destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas, which manufacture the hormone insulin. Individuals with type 1 diabetes will require lifelong insulin for the control of blood sugar levels. About five to10 percent of all diabetics are type 1.
In type 2 diabetes, insulin levels are typically elevated, which indicates a loss of sensitivity to insulin by the cells of the body. Approximately 90 percent of individuals categorized as having type 2 diabetes are obese. Obesity greatly reduces the sensitivity of cells to the hormone insulin.
The Need for Natural Medicine
Diabetes is a very serious disorder that needs to be treated effectively. Obviously, the best treatment for any disease is primary prevention. Can diabetes be prevented? Absolutely!
While current conventional medical treatments have undoubtedly helped many diabetics live healthier and longer lives, the most effective treatment for diabetes and other blood sugar disorders requires the utilization of lifestyle, dietary, and nutritional supplement strategies.
When used properly, the natural medicine approach to diabetes can
The Right Diet for Diabetics
The best diet for the management of diabetes and other blood sugar disorders is not the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Diabetes Food Pyramid or Health Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. One of the main criticisms of these diets is their reliance on foods that can quickly elevate blood sugar levels. For example, the bottom of the Diabetes Food Pyramid represents the foods that the ADA thinks should make up the bulk of a diabetic’s diet: the Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group. At six to11 servings a day from this group, a diabetic is supposedly on the way to a healthier life. However, we believe that following these recommendations sets the stage for further insulin resistance, obesity, and heart disease.
If you take a look at the dietary recommendations in our book How to Prevent and Treat Diabetes with Natural Medicine you will notice some clear differences. Our version incorporates the best from two of the most healthful diets ever studied–the traditional Mediterranean diet and the traditional Asian diet. These diets have also been shown to protect against diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The five key principles of our diet program are to avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient foods such as junk foods, candy, and soft drinks; follow a low-glycemic diet; eat a “rainbow” assortment of fruits and vegetables; reduce the intake of meat and animal products; and eat the right types of fats. We are confident that these dietary recommendations will eventually be embraced by organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association because they are scientifically sound.
Goals of Diabetes Management with Natural Medicine
The goals of controlling blood sugar levels and promoting good health with natural medicine are quite simple:
Reduce After-Meal Elevations in Blood Sugar Levels
Soluble dietary fibre supplements have been shown to enhance blood sugar control, decrease insulin levels, and reduce the number of calories absorbed by the body. The greater the viscosity of the fibre, the greater the reduction in after-meal blood sugar levels. When taken with water before meals, highly viscous fibre sources can bind to the water in the stomach and small intestine to form a gelatinous, viscous mass that not only slows down the absorption of glucose but also induces a sense of satiety (fullness) and reduces the absorption of calories. In some of the clinical studies demonstrating weight loss, fibre supplements were shown to reduce the number of calories absorbed by 30 to180 calories per day. While modest, this reduction in calories would, over the course of a year, result in a three- to 18-pound weight loss.
Provide Optimal Nutrient Status
A high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral formula is a must for people with diabetes. This supplement can provide the diabetic’s increased need for many nutrients. Supplying the diabetic with additional key nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin E, and chromium has been shown to improve blood sugar control and help prevent or reduce the development of the major complications of diabetes.
Improve Insulin Function and Sensitivity
Herbal extracts like Gymnema sylvestre (400 mg daily) and bitter melon (Momordica charantia) (300 mg daily) and supplements like alpha-lipoic acid (at dosages of 400 to 600 mg daily) can help to improve insulin function and sensitivity. Clinical studies have demonstrated that these natural products can improve blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes and lead either to a reduced dosage or complete discontinuation of oral drugs used to maintain blood sugar control (under the supervision of a physician or natural health practitioner).
Prevent Nutritional and Oxidative Stress
Increased oxidative stress is a major factor in diabetes. One of the critical goals in nutritionally supporting individuals with diabetes is to flood the body with a high level of antioxidant compounds to counteract the negative effects of free radicals and pro-oxidants. This goal is achieved by taking a high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral formula, along with additional vitamin E (400 to 800 IU daily) and alpha-lipoic acid (400 to 600 mg daily). Vitamin E and alpha-lipoic acid improve insulin action, prevent the long-term complications of diabetes, including improving blood flow to peripheral nerves, and actually stimulate the regeneration of nerve fibres.
Know Your Allies
Knowledge and awareness are the greatest allies for people with diabetes. An individual with diabetes who makes a strong commitment to learning about the condition, accepts the lead role in a carefully supervised monitoring program (including self-monitoring of blood sugar levels), and uses the natural-medicines approach greatly improves the likelihood that he or she will lead a long and healthy life.