Diabetes is a medical condition that is increasing rapidly in our society. It is characterised by abnormally high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Normally, the body secretes a hormone called insulin from the pancreas when there is excess sugar in the bloodstream. Insulin is a transport and storage hormone that acts to move sugar from the blood and into the cells where it can be used for energy. In this way, the body is able to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Diabetes is a condition where the body either cannot make insulin to do this, or the insulin that is made is in very low amounts and not well used by the body to regulate blood sugar. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as juvenile or early onset diabetes as it develops early in life usually during childhood; or insulin dependent diabetes as the patient requires insulin injections –. In this condition, the cells in the pancreas that make insulin are destroyed, so no insulin at all is produced. People who suffer from type 1 diabetes need to have regular insulin injections to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is referred to as adult or late onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes. It is the more common of the two conditions and is usually related to lifestyle issues such as a poor diet. In this form of diabetes, people can still produce insulin, but the body does not use it effectively.
The early symptoms of untreated type 2 diabetes are related to elevated blood glucose levels. Excess glucose in the blood can result in high levels of glucose being present in the urine. This increases the urine output, which leads to dehydration and increased thirst. Other symptoms include extreme tiredness, weight loss, blurred vision, itchy skin and repeated minor infections such as thrush and boils.
If uncontrolled for many years, type 2 diabetes can lead to more serious health problems:
blood vessel damage within the eye (retinopathy) which may lead to blindness:
kidney disease (nephropathy) or kidney failure:
nerve damage (neuropathy) especially of the hands and feet, causing tingling, numbness and weakness, and narrowing of the blood vessels due to fatty deposits (atherosclerosis). This increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and poor blood flow in the legs.
Some researchers and medical practitioners are now beginning to look at type 2 diabetes as a subsection of a greater condition known as Metabolic Syndrome, which features elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Integrative Medicine Treatments
The most important factor in treating or managing either form of diabetes is the maintenance of a healthy eating pattern. Because food is something that is consumed every day, learning to consume the appropriate foods for these conditions will result in a long term management strategy that will be easy to sustain for long term health. Because diabetes is a condition where blood sugar is not cleared as quickly as it should be, it is important to try to keep food choices to those foods that are not going to have a dramatic impact on blood sugar levels.
How a food impacts on blood sugar levels can be explained by the ‘glycaemic index’. The glycaemic index is a measure of the rate at which foods will convert to sugar (glucose) in the body. For anyone with either form of diabetes, choosing foods that have a low glycaemic index (or low GI) will mean those foods will have a much less unsettling effect on blood sugar levels than foods that have a high GI. There are many lists and specific books available now that identify and rate foods according to their glycaemic indexes. You should have at least one of these on your bookshelf at home.
Because heart disease is a condition frequently seen together with type 2 diabetes, it is important that ‘heart smart’ foods are also selected as a core part of the diet. These will include lean meats and fish, plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and good monounsaturated fats from things like olive oil and raw nuts. Not surprisingly, these foods are also low GI foods.
There is an increasing body of evidence to show that there are some supplements that can be very useful in helping to manage diabetes. These include chromium, magnesium, biotin, cinnamon extract, fish oil.
Chromium is an essential nutrient involved in the metabolism of glucose, insulin and blood fats. Low intakes of chromium rich foods have been associated with increased risk factors of developing diabetes (type 2) and heart disease. Chromium has been found to improve a number of factors responsible for managing blood sugar in both forms of diabetes. It increases the number of insulin receptors and it also increases insulin sensitivity (so that the body copes with blood sugar more effectively – a highly desirable attribute in diabetes).
A number of large long term studies have found that people with diabetes are deficient in the mineral magnesium when compared to the general population. Magnesium has been shown to reduce insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a state that most diabetes sufferers experience constantly – their cells are just not as responsive to insulin (they are resistant) which means sugar cannot be moved out of the bloodstream as efficiently as it should. While magnesium has not been shown to lower blood sugar directly, it has a powerful effect in the way it can decrease this resistance to insulin.
Magnesium is also very effective at controlling blood pressure – another reason why it should be considered an important supplement for those people suffering type 2 diabetes.
Recent studies have been showing that a combination of biotin and chromium has been even more effective in controlling diabetes and stabilizing blood sugar than simple chromium by itself. While more studies are ongoing to try to discern the exact nature of this effect, it is thought that biotin helps to promote the activity of the pancreas’ Beta cells – the cells that are responsible for producing insulin in response to increases in blood sugar.
One of the most exciting areas of current diabetes research at the moment involves the investigation of certain cinnamon extracts for the control of diabetes. A recent joint US/Pakistan study showed that after just 40 days on a cinnamon extract supplement, subjects in the study demonstrated significantly lowered levels in blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL, and cholesterol. It would appear from the current research that cinnamon contains a substance that acts almost as a substitute for insulin, as well as encouraging insulin to work better in the body.
Quality Pharmacy has specifically selected a cinnamon extract product that has clinical proof for benefiting blood sugar levels to recommend to our customers with diabetes.
As with any supplementation, it can be easy to become confused. Please ask your pharmacist about the best ways you can combine one or more of these supplements, with diet and your current medication to ensure you are getting the most complete diabetes management you can.