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Alternative Therapies for Diabetes
Diabetes mellitus is an endocrine disease of metabolism characterized by high blood glucose (also called hyperglycemia) and insulin deficiency or insufficiency. When a person’s pancreas doesn’t produce or secrete enough insulin, or the body fails to properly use insulin, glucose (sugar) levels in the blood can become too high. When left uncontrolled, symptoms of diabetes can develop.
Diabetes may be characterized by excessive thirst, hunger, obesity, weight loss, recurring infections that are slow to heal, fatigue and weakness, and erectile dysfunction.
Diabetes is generally classified as either type 1 or type 2. Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or juvenile-onset diabetes, is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin. It usually manifests before age 30 and most commonly appears during childhood.
In type 2 diabetes, which is much more common than type 1, the body begins to fail to respond appropriately to insulin. This is known as insulin insensitivity (or insulin resistance) because the body does not properly absorb glucose from the blood for use as fuel or for storage. Type 2 diabetes generally appears after around age 40, but that seems to be heading in a more negative direction (with onset beginning at younger ages), partly due to the poor dietary and lifestyle habits that plague much of the youth in developed countries.
Abdominal obesity has been shown to predispose for insulin resistance. In fact, obesity is the number one risk factor for diabetes. Obesity is estimated to be present in as much as 90 perccent of individuals with type 2 diabetes.
If left untreated, over time, either type of diabetes can lead to further health complications including heart disease, eye disease and blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease and kidney failure.
Conventional medical treatment of type 2 diabetes initially involves lifestyle and dietary changes including aerobic and resistance exercise and avoiding excess carbohydrates, sweets and starches. If necessary, a glucose-lowering medication may be added.
Complementary Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes
Complementary medical treatment of diabetes begins with simple nutrition and exercise recommendations. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential, as is controlling blood sugar through mindful eating choices.
Following a diet based on low glycemic carbohydrates, adequate protein and good fats is the first step.
The glycemic index of food is a ranking of foods based on their immediate effect on blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. Carbohydrate foods that break down quickly during digestion have the highest glycemic indexes. The body's blood sugar response to these foods is fast and high. Carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream, have low glycemic indexes. Examples of good (low glycemic) carbs include: legumes and beans, whole wheat, barley, brown rice, apples, apricots, grapefruit, cherries, plums, pears, and berries. High glycemic carbs include donuts, white rice and white flour products, cookies, and dried dates.
Samples of good protein include chicken and turkey, wild salmon, grass-fed beef and buffalo, tofu and tempeh, and eggs.
Healthy fats come from olive oil, flax seed oil, hemp seed oil and canola oil.
Dietary Supplements that Can Help
Many dietary supplements have been recommended for additional support in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Most of these supplements are intended to help improve blood sugar control and prevent or slow down the progression of the disease.
1. Chromium is a commonly recommended mineral that may help lower blood glucose levels. A typical dose is 200 micrograms daily. A recent study showed that supplementation with Chromium picolinate significantly improved insulin sensitivity and glucose control in individuals with type 2 diabetes who were taking sulfonylurea agents. Supplementation with chromium also helped prevent body weight gain and abdominal fat accumulation compared with the placebo group.
2. Magnesium is another mineral that is important for the prevention and treatment of diabetes. In a study performed at Harvard University, 85,060 women and 42,872 men who had no history of diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer were studied. Their magnesium intake was evaluated using a validated food frequency questionnaire every two to four years. Their findings propose "a significant inverse association between magnesium intake and diabetes risk." A similar study found a protective role with higher intake of magnesium in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, especially in overweight women.
Several more studies support the preventive role of magnesium with regards to diabetes prevention. In a large population based study in Taiwan, magnesium was actually added to the drinking water and a significant protective effect was seen, with magnesium being linked to a lower risk of dying from diabetes mellitus.
The best sources of magnesium are: amaranth, sunflower seeds, quinoa, spinach, wild rice, tofu, almonds, halibut, brown rice, white beans and avocado. If these foods are not regularly a part of your diet, you may want to consider a magnesium supplement. A typical dose begins with 500 to 750 milligrams daily; you may need to reduce the dose if you begin to have diarrhea or loose stools.
3. Calcium and vitamin D have shown some initial promise in middle age and older women for helping to prevent metabolic syndrome. A multivitamin/mineral supplement may be useful for individuals with diabetes. One study suggests that it may help prevent development of infection in persons with type 2 diabetes.
4. Zinc may assist the body in using insulin. Suggested dose is 30 milligrams day (balanced with 2 milligrams copper).
5. Antioxidant vitamins (A, C, E, beta carotene), B complex vitamins, and other antioxidant nutrients from superfoods like green tea, blueberries, and pomegranates can help prevent nerve damage (diabeteic neuropathy).
6. Similarly, the herbs bilberry and gingko biloba may help prevent or delay diabetic-related eye damage.
7. The concomitant risk of heart disease may be lowered with fish oils (which can raise "good" HDL cholesterol. A typical dosage is 1,000 milligrams (1 gram) three times daily.
8. Gymnema sylvestre is an herb that has been shown to help with blood sugar control. Fenugreek and bitter melon may also help.
Consult your doctor before using any health treatment — including herbal supplements and natural remedies — and tell your doctor if you have a serious medical condition or are taking any medications. The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is in no way intented as substitute for medical counseling.