Diabetes and Blood Sugar
December 3, 2015
Is your pancreas screaming at you from all of those holiday goodies? This time of year is horrible for sugar intake from cookies and egg nog to cakes and chocolate. It is very easy to get swept up into the sweetness of the season, but pay attention to your blood sugar! If it gets too high, it could spell major trouble for your body that will ruin more than just your holiday!
Diabetes is on the rise in the USA and worldwide. Both type 1 and 2 diabetes are characterized by high blood sugar, which becomes problematic over time as elevated blood sugar (and sometimes insulin) levels in the blood can damage different organs of the body. Diabetes is found in all races and ages with some 23.6 million people in the USA having diabetes. Roughly 90-95% of diabetics have type 2 diabetes. In the USA alone, 10.2% of all women over age 20 and 11.2% of all men over age 20 have diabetes. The World Health Organization calls diabetes a “global health problem” and it is the 7th leading cause of death.
In both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is affected. The pancreas makes and secretes digestive enzymes into the intestines. It also produces the hormone insulin. Insulin is secreted by the beta cells which are locates in areas called islets in the pancreas.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune process which leads to the death of beta cells, thereby causing a deficiency of insulin. This autoimmune process seems to start with an environmental insult (such as a virus, drug, allergen, milk protein, etc.) leading to insulitis: inflammation in the pancreas.
In some cases, type 1 diabetes is not specifically an autoimmune process, but rather related to trauma or simply caused by viral infections like Coxsackie, mumps, or enterovirus, which lead to direct beta cell damage. Evidence shows that type 1 diabetes may be related to early dairy or wheat intake, genetics, trauma or damage to the pancreas, diseases like cystic fibrosis, or even vaccinations.
The hallmark of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes is not characterized by low insulin levels as is seen in type 1 diabetes, though low insulin can happen in the disease process. People may have a genetic predisposition to developing type 2 diabetes but this disease is also affected by lifestyle: diet and exercise. Insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (a.k.a., Syndrome X) are all interrelated.
Autoimmune diseases tend to cluster together in an individual. If someone is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they should be vigilant about watching for other autoimmune diseases, such as Celiac disease and Addison’s disease.
Another type of diabetes that is less common but should be considered in adults presenting symptoms of type 2 diabetes is LADA: Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults. Diagnosis of LADA doesn’t occur until after age 30. Patients with LADA exhibit symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In LADA, the person’s body is slowly creating antibodies against the islet cells, so while someone with LADA produces their own insulin at first, gradually insulin production wanes as the pancreatic islet cells are compromised.
People with type 1 diabetes and LADA must inject insulin to control their blood sugar levels, but it is also important to address lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) and supplements (nutrients and herbs) to help lower blood sugar and protect the body from the damaging effects of elevated glucose and insulin.
The most important goal for all people with diabetes is blood sugar control. Trying to avoid blood sugar cravings is the primary treatment goal with whatever interventions are tried.
Lifestyle changes are an integral part of any treatment for people with diabetes. Probably the most important part of a treatment plan for diabetes is to address diet and exercise routines! Changing diet and exercise patterns can vastly improve how the body manages insulin and glucose. Regarding children with diabetes, please consult a qualified healthcare practitioner before making any changes to their diet, physical activity routines, medications, or supplements. Since insulin and blood glucose levels are closely tied to growth hormone secretion, managing diabetes in children is a task that requires special skill and monitoring.
Generally, a low carbohydrate diet rooted in whole foods with minimal processed and packaged foods is appropriate for most adults with diabetes. A cornerstone of the “diabetic diet” is to eliminate refines carbohydrates: flour, sugar, cookies, pastries, bread, pasta, candy, cereal, crackers, white rice, tortillas, etc. The mainstays of the diet are fresh vegetables, limited amounts of fresh fruit, plenty of lean protein, and good fats such as avocado, walnuts and other nuts, seeds, olive oil, flax oil, and fish oil. Some low carb bread/cracker items are usually fine in limited amounts.
Here are a few nutrients and herbs which are helpful for diabetes. All of these can be found in a product from Murray Avenue Apothecary called “Sugar Manager”:
- Alpha-lipoic acid: 300 mg a day or more can improve insulin sensitivity and diabetic neuropathy, as well as the slow progression of kidney damage
- Chromium: many studies show that 200 mcg or more per day improves glucose tolerance. Chromium may also improve lipid levels.
- Cinnamon: the inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes can improve hemoglobin A1C levels and reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Green Tea: contains epigallocatechin gallate which reduces oxidative damage by suppressing cytokine induced pancreatic beta-cell damage. Studies in diabetic rats show that green tea also protects the kidneys.
- Gymnema sylvestre: is a herb that has been used to treat type 1 and 2 diabetes for 2,000 years. Gymnema may enhance insulin sensitivity and increase insulin secretion by regenerating beta cells in the pancreas. It reduces levels of blood glucose and impairs ability to taste sweets, which helps people with low carb diets manage their sugar cravings. Some practitioners prefer a herbal extract standardized to 25% gymnemic acids.
- L-Taurine: In red blood cells, Taurine has been shown to prevent oxidative damage caused by high glucose levels. Taurine may prevent lipid peroxidation and the formation of glycated protein. Taurine works well with NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) and it protects the kidneys from cell death due to hyperglycemia.
- Niacin (Vitamin B3): has been shown to decrease nerve damage due to sorbitol. A standard dose of niacin would be in the range of 50 mg per day, which is often found in multivitamins. Higher doses of niacin help to lower cholesterol and should be used under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner to watch for liver damage.
- Other vitamins such as B1, B2, B6, B12, and biotin: may be helpful to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce neuropathy, improve microcirculation, and reduce homocysteine.
- Vanadyl sulfate or Vanadium: may be used to reduce activate insulin receptors and reduce insulin resistance. Vanadium should be dosed carefully as doses above 15 mg per day can be toxic. A typical safe dose might be in the range of 1,000 mcg-5 gm per day.
Keeping your immune system strengthened can also help prevent diabetes and manage blood sugar levels. Here is an outlined diet for immune health. Don’t forget our MegaDefense supplement as well:
- Vegetables: Variety! Fresh: raw, steamed, sautéed, roasted. Frozen in 2nd best. Avoid canned.
- Fruit: Fresh, frozen, water packed. If eating canned, not in syrup.
- Starch, Bread, Cereal: 100% whole grain. Gluten-free if needed. High fiber. Buckwheat, tapioca, amaranth, quinoa, rice, oat. Yams, potatoes, Legumes.
- Nuts/Seeds: Almond, cashew, walnut, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame (tahini). Whole or nut butter.
- Sweeteners: Stevia and fruit sweeteners.
- Meat: organic or free range. Chicken, turkey, duck, quail. Wild game, lamb, beef
- Fish: wild. Fresh, canned or frozen. Check EPA or NRDC for updates on safe fish consumption.
- Milk and dairy substitutes: rice, hemp, coconut, almond, sunflower seed, cashew, hazelnut, and oat milk. Unsweetened varieties.
- Fats: cold pressed olive, safflower, sunflower, sunflower, sesame, walnut, pumpkin, almond oils, butter. Flax and fish oil (do not cook these). Coconut Oil – heat veggies first, and toss with coconut oil.
- Beverages: water, herbal tea, seltzer
- Spices/condiments: Any! Especially turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, garlic, onion, thyme, dill, oregano, rosemary, vinegar, etc.
Diabetes is certainly NOT a present you want to receive this year! Make sure you watch your sugar intake and take care of yourself so you can enjoy this holiday season and every holiday after that! As always, have a happy and HEALTHY holiday season!