Many people know that the most common form of diabetes is preventable, but too many are not yet incorporating that message of prevention into their daily lives.
November is diabetes month. Many people know that the most common form of diabetes is preventable, but too many are not yet incorporating that message of prevention into their daily lives.
There are two different types of diabetes mellitus: type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes
In this type of diabetes the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin—a hormone that helps us process sugar. Insulin removes glucose from the blood and transfers it to cells where it is used as fuel. For people with this disease, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin (called beta cells) have been destroyed by the body’s own immune system.
Type 1 diabetes occurs most often in children and young adults. It requires insulin replacement therapy and is generally considered an autoimmune disease. There is presently no known cure; however, vitamin D deficiency may be a correctable, underlying factor.
Type 2 diabetes
This occurs when the body cannot correctly use the insulin made by the pancreas. Sometimes referred to as adult onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is increasingly prevalent in children. Although family history and genetics play an important part in its development, the disease is preventable and is more likely to occur in those who are overweight.
Lack of exercise, poor diet, and excess weight (especially around the middle) significantly increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. The consequences of allowing it to go unchecked are grave and include amputation of limbs, blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, and death.
Eat more whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables, and opt for low-fat dairy products. Research has shown that people who follow these guidelines are 15 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who do not.
Avoid soft drinks—even diet ones. Many people choose diet pop over regular soft drinks to avoid calories and weight gain, but recent research suggests that people who drink diet pop on a daily basis have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks has also been found to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus in African American women.
Recent research suggests that exercise may be as good as diet and drugs at managing diabetes. According to a recent study review, both aerobic and resistance exercise—and a combination of the two—are able to control glucose levels in ways similar to diet changes and insulin treatments.
Herbs for diabetes
Ivy gourd (Coccinia indica)
This plant appears to mimic the action of insulin in the body. In a randomized, controlled clinical trial, 32 patients with type 2 diabetes were treated for six weeks with powdered ivy gourd. Researchers reported significant changes in blood sugar control. While similar effects have been reported in other trials, more research is needed to confirm these encouraging results.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
Several species of ginseng have been shown in animal studies to lower blood sugar. Some clinical trials in humans have examined the herb’s effects on patients with type 2 diabetes, reporting decreases in fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c. Larger, long-term studies are needed to confirm the blood sugar-lowering effects of American ginseng.
Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre)
Gymnema leaves were first found to lower blood sugar in the 1920s. Research in animals and humans has found that gymnema leaves raise insulin levels, possibly by regenerating the pancreatic beta cells that make insulin.
A great many other herbs show promising potential to manage type 2 diabetes. The following are some important herbs used in the treatment of diabetes and should be considered under the guidance of a health care practitioner.
- Garlic and onion (Allium sativum, Allium cepa)
- Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum)
- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
- Bitter melon (Momordica charantia)
- Fig leaf (Ficus carica)
- Nopal (Opuntia streptacantha)
- Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)
- Gingko (Gingko biloba)
- Indian kino (Pterocarpus marsupium)
- Aloe vera
Nutritional supplements for diabetes
Of the studies examining oral vitamin and mineral supplements for diabetes control, the best quality research is available on chromium, magnesium, vitamin E, vanadium, and alpha-lipoic acid.
Chromium is a trace mineral required to regulate blood sugar. Although most people with diabetes are not deficient in chromium, supplementation has been shown to help control glucose as well as weight, blood lipids, and bone density. Chromium is a part of glucose tolerance factor, which has been shown to increase the number of insulin receptors, to enhance receptor binding, and to improve the action of insulin.
Although its precise role in controlling blood sugar is not known, magnesium deficiency can cause insulin resistance and worsen diabetes complications such as neuropathy, retinopathy, thrombosis, and hypertension.
While at least one study has found that magnesium can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and increase post-meal insulin secretion, definitive results from clinical trials remain inconclusive.
Although evidence from clinical trials is mixed, it is suggested that vitamin E supplementation could reduce complications of diabetes arising from the glycation of proteins and the oxidative damage that accompanies the disease. Vitamin E may also improve insulin secretion and the sensitivity of insulin receptors.
Vanadium is a nonessential trace element that may be helpful in improving the uptake and metabolism of glucose, the metabolism of lipid and amino acids, and enhancing insulin sensitivity. Vanadium acts primarily as a mimic of insulin.
Alpha-lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant. Experimental research has shown it enhances glucose uptake in muscle and prevents glucose-induced protein glycation. In patients with type 2 diabetes who were given 600 to 1,800 mg per day, alpha-lipoic acid had positive effects on glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity.
All types of diabetes are serious and potentially life threatening. A qualified health care practitioner should manage them. Advice regarding natural therapies should be sought from a naturopathic doctor, nutritionist, or other knowledgeable practitioner.
Health food store personnel may also be able to direct you to useful information regarding supplements to support healthy blood sugar levels.