According to the American Diabetes Association, 6.2 percent of the population has diabetes, with one third of the people (5.9 million) unaware that they have the disease.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic health problem that involves abnormally high blood sugar levels. The foods you eat, through digestion, break down into tiny particles. Some of the foods, such as carbohydrates, are broken down into particles of sugar. This sugar is referred to as glucose. So the glucose then moves from the digestive system into the bloodstream and travels around the body to feed the working cells. The glucose (sugar) is the energy that the cells need to do their work (such as running and breathing). So glucose is actually a good thing that is needed to supply energy to every cell in the body. However, if glucose levels become too elevated, then they become toxic to the brain and other body organs.
Diabetes is categorized into two main types. (With the exception of gestational diabetes, which is diabetes that occurs when a woman is pregnant). I’ll go into those in a minute. But to really understand diabetes, you must first understand the significance of blood sugar (glucose) and insulin.
So the foods that we eat break down into glucose (food energy), which is then transported into the bloodstream. Once there, the body sends a signal to the pancreas telling it to release insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps to move the glucose (energy) from the bloodstream into the cells that need it. The insulin actually acts as a key that opens both the door of the bloodstream and of the door of the cells to allow the glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter into the cells as food.
The problem comes in when this system malfunctions. When this process of converting food into energy for cells is not working correctly, that is when you are considered to have diabetes. Now, there are two different ways that this system can malfunction. That is why there are two different types of diabetes: Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes is also known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, since this type usually develops during childhood or adolescence. In people with Type 1, the production and secretion of insulin by the pancreas is severely deficient. If there is not enough insulin, there is no key. Without the key, the glucose cannot escape from the bloodstream and is trapped there. And as the person continues to eat food that is broken down into more glucose, it continues to accumulate in the blood stream, unable to get out. This is how the blood “sugar” (glucose) can get too high. In addition to the blood sugar being too high, the worker cells on the outside of the blood stream have no food to meet their energy demands, causing more problems.
Because insulin levels are absent (or dramatically low), people with Type 1 have to inject themselves with insulin, which will allow the glucose to leave the bloodstream, and enter in to nourish body cells. People with Type 1 must monitor their blood sugar daily. This test (often a finger stick) will measure the amount of glucose in the blood. Depending on how high the number is, the person will know how much insulin is needed in order to let the glucose escape, thereby lowering the amount of sugar in the blood and feeding the hungry cells.
Type 1 is thought to involve an autoimmune response (possibly as a reaction to the consumption of dairy products or other allergens), where the person’s immune system attacks and damages its own pancreatic cells that produce insulin. So the removal of the allergen in some cases can improve pancreatic function and increase the amount of insulin that is produced/secreted. Type 1 Diabetes is far less common and accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of the diabetes cases in the United States.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, often called adult-onset or non–insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), is by far the more common of the two types: about 90 to 95 percent of the diabetes in the United States is type 2, affecting over 16 million people.
Type 2 happens when the cells inside the body have a resistance to insulin in addition to a sick pancreas that may not be producing enough insulin. People with type 2 can produce insulin, but because of the resistance of the cells, the insulin (and the glucose it transports) cannot effectively enter into the cells. So the glucose remains in the blood stream, causing blood sugar to elevate, and the cells in the body remain hungry.
Type 2 usually strikes during adulthood, most often in the elderly or in obese people over forty. However it is becoming increasingly common with children, due to lack of exercise, obesity, and poor dietary habits. This category of diabetes is most often linked to a diet that is high in refined carbohydrates and low in fiber, and it can usually be treated with an effective diet, exercise, and specific nutritional supplements.
Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia
All three types of diabetes are very serious medical conditions. When left unmonitored and untreated, blood-sugar levels can swing from dramatically low (hypoglycemia) to dangerously high (hyperglycemia). Hypoglycemia comes on quickly and leaves you feeling dizzy, pale, sweaty, and confused. You may feel uncoordinated or have palpitations. If your glucose levels are not raised, your symptoms could grow worse, and you could lapse into a coma. This can be due to alcohol, medications, excess activity, the early stages of pregnancy, skipped meals, a meal too high in protein and low in carbohydrates (think Atkin’s diet), or a number of other causes.
Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) isn’t much better. Although the initial symptoms may be more difficult to spot: high blood glucose, high levels of sugar in the urine, frequent urination, and increased thirst, it is still a serious condition. High blood sugar levels over long periods of time can cause damage to important body parts such as your eyes, kidneys, heart, skin, and nerves. In addition, even though high blood sugar may take hours or days to develop, it can result in diabetic ketoacidosis (diabetic coma), a life-threatening condition. Ketoacidosis develops when your body doesn't have enough insulin. Without insulin, your body can't use glucose for fuel. So, your body breaks down fats to use for energy instead. When your body breaks down fats, waste products called ketones are produced. Your body cannot tolerate large amounts of ketones and will try to get rid of them through the urine. Unfortunately, the body cannot release all the ketones and they build up in your blood. This can lead to ketoacidosis.
What Should I Do?
Over the long term, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney and nerve disorders, loss of vision, and other problems. The high levels of blood sugar can also leave the body vulnerable to infection. This is why you need to keep your blood sugar stable and under control.
If you have type 1 diabetes, you must work very closely with a good doctor and follow a lifelong treatment plan that includes diet, exercise, and most likely, medication. Complementary therapies can also provide helpful support to your taxed endocrine and other systems and help decrease the need for medications and reduce the long-term complications of the disease. In rare cases some people are able to get off insulin therapy when a comprehensive natural approach is followed. This, of course, should never be tried without a doctor’s supervision.
People with type 2 diabetes must also take their disease very seriously and consult a doctor on a regular basis; however, they will usually find that a comprehensive dietary, exercise, and supplemental program will reduce or eliminate the need for medication. No matter which kind of diabetes you have, you must always talk to your doctor about any therapies you plan to incorporate into your protocol. And never go off your medication without a doctor’s consent.
Because these symptoms may not seem serious, many people with diabetes remain undiagnosed. If they apply to you or to your child, see a doctor as soon as possible.
•Frequent urination (children may be constant bed-wetters)
•A poor diet (particularly in type 2)
•An autoimmune reaction (due to a viral infection, environmental toxin, food allergy). This is thought to be the origin of some cases of type 1 diabetes.
•Chronic stress and the resulting stress hormone imbalance
•Nutritional deficiencies, especially of chromium, B vitamins, zinc, vanadium, and vitamin D
If you or someone you love has diabetes, there is hope! We have found that when incorporating diet, exercise, stress relief, proper rest, detoxification, and herbal medicine, many people have been able to naturally manage diabetes without medications or painful symptoms. Some people, through these natural therapies, have even been able to turn the disease around to the point that their body is functioning as normal as someone who never had the disease. Isn’t that amazing?! Here are some suggestions to help you get your health back and your body functioning at optimum level again.
Because diabetes is about sugar, and sugar comes from your diet, the most important therapy for diabetes is a healthful diet. That is why I will be devoting the majority of the time dealing with this topic. The dietary suggestions that I present here can help regulate your blood sugar levels naturally and also reduce your risk of complications, such as cardiovascular disease. Some people (particularly those with Type 2 Diabetes) have been able to get off of medication completely by following the diet and exercise plan presented here.
Follow a diet that’s high in fiber (raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains). Water-soluble fiber, as found in oat bran, beans, nuts, seeds, and apples, helps to balance blood sugar.
Ground flaxseeds should be consumed daily. Consume 1 tablespoon with each meal or 1⁄4cup daily. Make sure to drink plenty of water when you start taking flaxseeds (10 ounces per tablespoon). A daily total of 50 mg of fiber daily is a great goal.
Consume vegetable protein (legumes, nuts, seeds, peas) with each meal. Protein helps smooth out blood-sugar levels. Many people with diabetes benefit from increasing the relative amount of protein in the diet.
Focus on quality fats. Nuts and seeds are excellent. Use olive and flaxseed oil with your salads.
Increase intake of Chromium-rich foods. Chromium deficiency has been linked to diabetes, so eat lots of brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, whole grains, soy products, broccoli, onions, and garlic. In addition to being good sources of chromium, onions and garlic have shown significant blood sugar lowering ability and will also help protect against heart disease.
Enjoy plenty of berries, plums, and grapes. These foods contain powerful phytochemicals that protect your vision.
**If you need to eat more frequently throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stabilized, choose healthy foods such as those listed, rather than junk food that will cause an unhealthy spike and drop in blood sugar.
Food to Avoid
Stay away from simple sugars. Obvious no-no’s are candy, cookies, cakes, ice cream, sodas, and other sweets.
White, refined bread also spikes blood-sugar levels. Instead, choose whole grain: breads, cereals, and pastas. Brown rice, barley, oats, spelt, and kamut are complex carbohydrates that are good choices.
Avoid cow’s milk. Some studies have found a link between cow’s milk ingestion and type 1 diabetes in children. It appears that some children, due to genetic reasons, react to the cow’s milk protein (caseins), which causes an autoimmune reaction with the pancreas.
Eliminate alcohol from your diet. Alcohol is already considered a toxin by the body, but in the diabetic, it is even more poisonous. Normally, when your blood sugar level starts to drop, your liver steps in. It goes to work changing stored carbohydrates into glucose. Then it sends the glucose out into the blood, which helps you avoid or slow down a low blood sugar reaction.
However, when alcohol enters your system, this changes. Since your body reacts to the alcohol like the poison it is, the liver wants to clear it from the blood quickly. In fact, the liver won't put out glucose again until it has taken care of the alcohol. So even if your blood glucose level is falling, the liver is more concerned with ridding the body of the poison rather than trying to produce glucose. This is how you can quickly wind up with very low blood sugar.
Also, if you have nerve damage from diabetes in your arms or legs, drinking can make it worse. Alcohol is very toxic to the nerves. Drinking can increase the pain, burning, tingling, numbness, and other symptoms found with nerve damage. Some studies show that even regular light drinking (less than two drinks per week) can bring on nerve damage.
In addition to increasing the risks of hypoglycemia, nerve damage, and eye disease, alcohol is high in calories and low in nutrition. If weight is a problem for a person, then the alcohol should be cut out if for nothing else but to save calories.
Eliminate caffeine from your diet. Drinking tea and coffee also causes problems for diabetics. Drinking coffee raises blood sugar levels. It does so by enhancing the effect of the two hormones: adrenaline and glucagons. These two hormones release stored sugar from the liver resulting in high blood sugar.
Excessive coffee drinking also leads to the development of insulin resistance and impairs glucose and insulin homeostasis (balance). Even a normal amount of coffee intake can show this effect.
If that’s not enough, drinking caffeinated beverages can also lead to insomnia or sleep deprivation. Studies show that people who do not get quality sleep generally show lower levels of glucose tolerance and greater insulin resistance.
Instead of coffee, you’d be surprised how satisfying hot water with lemon is, or a hot cup of herbal tea, and they are actually beneficial for your body!
Cut back on your consumption of saturated fat. Found in both meat and dairy products, it has been shown to increase the risk of both diabetes and heart disease.
Avoid artificial sweeteners. Many artificial sweeteners have been linked with an increased risk of multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, and a plethora of other disorders. Instead use diabetic-safe and more healthful natural sweeteners such as stevia or agave nectar.
Exercise is an extremely valuable tool for the prevention and treatment of disease –whatever the disease may be. However, exercise is particularly important in the diabetes treatment plan. Many benefits have been observed, including enhanced insulin sensitivity - with a diminished need for insulin injections; improved glucose tolerance; increased numbers of insulin receptors; reduced bad cholesterol levels, increased good cholesterol levels; and improved weight loss in obese diabetics.
Everyone knows that a good night’s sleep gives the body time to rest, rejuvenate, and heal. A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Society suggests that healthy young people who regularly got less than 6.5 hours of sleep a night had greater insulin resistance than people who got 7.5 to 8.5 hours of rest. Insulin resistance is the condition that often leads to Type 2 diabetes.
In people with diabetes, stress can alter blood glucose levels. It does this in two ways. First, people under stress may not take good care of themselves. They may eat worse or exercise less (or both). They may forget, or not have time, to check their glucose levels or plan good meals. Second, stress hormones may also alter blood glucose levels directly. In people with type 2 diabetes, mental stress often raises blood glucose levels. Physical stress, such as illness or injury, causes higher blood glucose levels in people with either type of diabetes. For some people with diabetes, controlling stress with relaxation therapy can help.
Diabetics are particularly vulnerable to toxins. Although fasting is generally not an option if you have diabetes, other therapies will help flush out toxic build-up and reduce your risk of developing diseases.
The skin is the largest organ of detoxification. Encourage it to expel toxins by giving yourself a dry brush with a towel or skin brush from head to toe every morning or night.
Drink a clean glass of water every 2 waking hours. This will do wonders to rid your body of toxins.
In addition to improving the diet, reducing stress, proper rest, exercising more, and detoxification, there are many herbal supplements that help improve functioning of the pancreas, balance blood sugar levels, and decrease the problems associated with diabetes.
Here are some that I recommend:
Diabetic Delight – Helps to improve function of the pancreas, regulate blood sugar, and prevent complications of diabetes.
Diabetes Support – Helps balance blood sugar levels and improve functioning of the pancreas.
Ener-G – Enhances the release of insulin from the pancreas and increases the number of insulin receptors. It has a direct blood sugar lowering effect. In addition, it increases energy levels and improves circulation to the extremities (helping with diabetic neuropathy).
E-Complex – Vitamin E improves glucose regulation and prevents cholesterol oxidation.
Living Green Energy – Green foods are very detoxifying and can help prevent toxic buildup in the body that can lead to infection, especially with diabetes.
Mega-Multi – A very high quality multivitamin, Mega-Multi supplies nutrients involved with blood sugar and metabolism.
Sunny Day – As stress can contribute to the symptoms of diabetes, Sunny Day will help relieve this stress and anxiety, reducing the strain on the body.
C-Blast – Vitamin C helps prevent the complications of diabetes as it helps fight and prevent infections.
Odorless Garlic – Garlic is a very important herb for the diabetic. It stabilizes blood sugar and helps reduce your risk of heart disease and other circulatory disorders by improving blood flow, lowering elevated blood pressure, and reducing levels of “bad” cholesterol.
B-Complex - B complex vitamins are involved in blood sugar metabolism and help treat diabetic symptoms such as neuropathy.
Ginkgo Biloba – Stimulates blood flow to brain and extremities. Helps reduce and/or eliminate diabetic neuropathy.
Evening Primrose Oil – Studies show it is very effective at reducing or eliminating diabetic neuropathy.
Clay and Swedish Bitters – Both the clay and Swedish bitters are valuable detoxification tools for the diabetic.
Quit smoking! Don’t smoke or expose yourself to secondhand smoke. If you have insulin resistance, you are vulnerable to heart and kidney damage, both of which are linked to smoking. Smoking also impairs the already weak circulation.
Get a massage! Diabetics and people with unhealthy blood-sugar levels often suffer from poor circulation. A massage is a relaxing way to improve blood flow. Regular massaging of the feet may be especially beneficial to help ward off foot ulcers. It also has a calming and soothing effect on the body and lowers stress levels.