According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 21 million people in the United States have diabetes. The vast majority of these people, about 90-95%, have type 2 diabetes (aka adult onset diabetes). Many millions more are “pre-diabetic” and, if left on their current course, will surely become diabetic. What a bummer! Not only is it a serious health threat, diabetes is also expensive. In 2002 the medical costs associated with diabetes were $132 billion. That’s billion with a “B” . Why are we in this predicament, and why aren’t we rioting in the streets about it? What really puts the bee in my bonnet is the increasing number of children diagnosed with this disease.
The Good News
Now that I’ve vented a little, I would like to share the good news. Contrary to what many people believe, there are natural ways to treat type 2 diabetes. Since I’m up on my soapbox, I might as well share some thoughts and suggestions with you. This month we will focus on insulin, and next month on some other factors which contribute to this disease.
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is ultimately the result of something called “insulin resistance.” Insulin is the hormone which helps our cells absorb sugar (glucose) to use as energy. Insulin resistance occurs when our cells no longer respond to the signals of insulin, and the result is harmfully high levels of sugar floating around in our blood with nowhere to go. This elevated blood sugar wreaks havoc (picture a fraternity party) on our blood vessels, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
What Can I Do to Help Control My Type 2 Diabetes?
There are a number of natural ways to improve our cells’ response to insulin and help control type 2 diabetes. Remember to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your treatment plan.
- First things first. All the talk about losing weight and exercising is true. In order to get the body’s sensitivity to insulin working better, we have to trim off that weight around our bellies and move our bodies. There is no easy way around this. You must make exercising a priority.
- The tasty spice cinnamon has an insulin-like effect. It has been shown in studies to help reduce blood glucose levels. Eat it every day as part of your routine.
- Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre) is an herb that is helpful in treating diabetes. Be cautious! This herb can be very successful in lowering blood glucose, so your blood sugar levels should be monitored carefully. In addition, gymnema can decrease the body’s ability to taste “sweet” and, therefore, reduce sugar cravings.
- Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) has long been used in the management of diabetes. Research suggests that this traditionally used herb can indeed lower blood sugar levels.
- Chromium is an essential trace mineral that takes part in sugar and fat metabolism. It helps our cells properly respond to insulin. In fact, studies have found low levels of chromium in people with diabetes.
- Zinc plays an important role in the production and storage of insulin. There is some research showing that people with type 2 diabetes have poor zinc status.
One final note: it is extremely important to frequently check your blood glucose levels whenever you make lifestyle changes or start new medicines—even natural ones. Tune in next month when I will delve deeper into the root causes of type 2 diabetes and discuss a truly holistic approach to diabetes management.
Take care of your (whole) self—
Amy Bader, ND