Approximately 8% of the population in the United States suffers from Diabetes. This includes almost 26 million children and adults that are affected by this condition, which limits the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Diabetes is generally classified into 2 categories, known as type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where immune cells attack healthy pancreatic beta-cells which produce insulin; this leads to severe insulin deficiency and high blood sugar (also known as blood glucose). Approximately 10-15% of all diabetics have type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a condition where cells in the body that take up glucose from the blood in response to insulin become resistant to the signals that insulin sends. This increases glucose in the blood and often elevates overall insulin in the blood as well.
While there are many treatments for this well-known disease, regulating blood sugar is by far the main treatment goal in reducing complications from diabetes. While medications are often needed for treating severe forms of diabetes (especially type 1), there are many alternative approaches to helping manage blood sugar in diabetes.
Dietary changes are usually by far the most effective treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Both forms of diabetes benefit from a diet that is high in fiber (between 25 – 40g per day) and foods that have a low glycemic load. This form of diet can help reduce rates of excessive blood glucose levels in type 1 diabetics and reduce hemoglobin A1c, total cholesterol, and triglycerides in type 2 diabetics. Simple, processed, and concentrated carbohydrates must be avoided and a whole foods diet high in vegetables, protein and low glycemic fruits should be encouraged. Those with type 1 diabetes should also consider being tested for celiac disease, a commonly associated autoimmune condition triggered by eating gluten. Gluten avoidance in these individuals is extremely important for reducing inflammation and autoimmune reaction in the body. For children with diabetes, it is also very important to make sure that proper nutritional status is maintained so as to avoid malnutrition and symptoms from vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
Nutritional supplementation for diabetes depends which type of diabetes a person has been diagnosed with. Newly-diagnosed type 1 diabetics should focus on treatments that are anti-inflammatory and help cells repair (such as fish oils, vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E). If blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c are difficult to control, there are several herbs and minerals that can be added alongside conventional treatments to help regulate blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetics need to focus on treatments that help reduce insulin resistance and inflammation. Fish oils, vitamin C, and Vitamin E are great anti-inflammatories for those with type 2 diabetes. There are several herbs (such as gymnema and fenugreek) that can also help with insulin resistance and controlling blood glucose. It is important to keep in mind that all medications, herbal or conventional, should be monitored closely by your physician.
Exercise is also very important for prevention and management of diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes. Exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control and can also help to reduce damage to the cardiovascular system. It may also decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression and aid in weight loss, which is an important treatment goal for type 2 diabetics. The most important forms of exercise for diabetics include aerobic exercises, strength training, and stretching.
Increased levels of stress are associated with higher blood glucose levels in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Physical, mental, or emotional stress trigger adrenaline and cortisol to be made by the adrenal glands, which causes blood glucose levels to rise and decrease the response of cells to insulin. Increased stress also has a negative effect on the immune system and is linked to worsening of autoimmune diseases (such as type 1 diabetes). Managing and dealing with stressful life events is as important as diet in helping to manage blood glucose in diabetes.
While there are many natural treatment approaches to diabetes, it is always a good idea to have a medical professional help you in finding the right treatments for you. The physicians at Aria Integrative Medicine are great resources for finding the right combination of treatments to help you manage your blood sugar. If you have any questions about how you can start to manage your diabetes naturally, call our office today to schedule an appointment!
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