Preventing, Reversing and Managing Diabetes Naturally
Attending to the miracle of our body’s metabolism—which consists of numerous processes that include the digestion of food for growth and energy—is critical to good health. Diabetes, a metabolic disorder, is a serious threat to these processes, as well as for any hope of anti-aging and longevity.
Types of Diabetes
There are four types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, gestational, and latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). In Type 1 (not caused by eating or lifestyle habits), the immune system destroys the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Type 2, caused by lifestyle and eating habits, is a metabolic disorder in which the cells are unable to use insulin. Healthy lifestyle changes and better eating habits, if made when symptoms are first identified, may be able to reverse type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy, typically disappears afterwards. Women that had it are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. LADA is autoimmune form of diabetes in which the death of the beta cells occurs over a span of years, rather than rapidly.
The American Diabetes Association advises that 8.1 million of the 29.1 individuals that have been diagnosed with diabetes were previously unaware and had not detected the earliest symptoms.
Telltale signs of diabetes are dry mouth, excessive thirst, frequent urination, constant hunger, even after meals, unusual weight gain or loss and lack of energy. According to functional medicine practitioner Dr. Kim Martin, owner of North Shore Health Solutions, in Northbook, many individuals detect no symptoms and only learn of their condition from a doctor-ordered routine blood test. “I recommend an annual blood test of fasting blood glucose levels and suggest an A1C glycated hemoglobin blood test, which is a reading of blood sugar levels over a three-month period. Physical symptoms are important to note because Type 2 diabetics have the same signs,” says Martin.
“Fatigue after eating a meal can also be an indicator of pre-diabetes and diabetes. Managing the extra blood sugar level from poor food and drink choices requires a lot of energy and causes an inflammatory response. If untreated, later symptoms may include numbness and tingling, as well as the pain or discomfort of neuropathy in the hands or feet. Other complications are heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and vision problems,” explains Martin.
Blood Sugar (Glucose) Levels
Normal blood glucose levels vary throughout the day. For healthy individuals, a fasting blood sugar level on awakening is less than 100 milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dl) of blood. Before meals, normal levels are between 70 and 99 mg/dl.
“Individuals that have developed early stages of insulin resistance will not always experience high blood glucose levels, but without medical intervention, those with Type 1 diabetes will experience extremely high glucose levels,” notes Martin. Fasting glucose levels should vary between 100 and 125. A fasting glucose level above 126 is an indicator that lifestyle changes are needed to avoid progression into full Type 2 diabetes.
High Risk Groups
Marcy Kirshenbaum, a board-certified clinical nutritionist and owner of Enhance Nutrition, in Northbook, cites high-risk groups for Type 2 diabetes as individuals that consume large amounts of simple carbohydrates and sugars, those that are overweight, and individuals with an exceedingly sedentary lifestyle that includes unhealthy processed foods.
Fluctuating Blood Sugar
“Rollercoaster sugar levels are irritating to the nerves and weaken the lining of blood vessels. Fluctuations cause insulin levels to spike, stress the pancreas and cause sugar crashes (hypoglycemia), which can lead individuals to make impulsive, poor food choices. They also raise triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid) that circulates in the blood, along with cholesterol. Triglycerides are an important measure of heart health. An excessive amount of more than 150 in fasting blood can lead to a risk of stroke and heart attack,” advises Kirshenbaum.
An awareness of risk factors, such as a family history of diabetes, is important in early detection. Both health professionals agree that with this knowledge and help from a fully informed medical professional regarding the necessary steps to prevent diabetes from progressing to the next stage, the individual knows what types of realistic changes can be supportive and how to go about making them.
Martin and Kirshenbaum educate patients and help them integrate dietary changes that are critical in the earliest stages. Additional patient education includes the necessity of eating low-glycemic index foods and reducing blood glucose levels, while increasing healthy fats choices such as nuts, avocado and olive oil.
Antioxidant-rich plant foods are also a critically important component of an effective dietary plan. As experienced health practitioners, Kirshenbaum and Martin are alarmed by the nationwide epidemic of obesity and diabetes, as well as the increased number of teenagers presenting with both early and active stages of diabetes.
The Role of Exercise
The role of cardiovascular and resistance training exercises in reversing pre-diabetes and managing diabetes for diagnosed individuals is of utmost importance. “Exercise increases the muscle cells’ demand for glucose by moving glucose out of the blood and into muscle cells,” explains Martin.
Control and Reversal
There is no quick fix for preventing and reversing diabetes. Restoration of health begins with the most important health lifestyle changes required—replacing processed and sugary foods with nutrient-dense, whole foods, determining possible food sensitivities with an elimination diet, eating some protein with every meal, eliminating environmental toxins, performing a form of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training at least three to five times a week, and adding stress-relieving practices such as yoga, tai chi or qigong.
Herbs such as turmeric reduce inflammation, and berberine can help cells use glucose efficiently. Supplements such as vitamin C, B-complex, resveratrol and pycnogenol can raise antioxidant levels, which most pre-diabetic and diabetic individuals are deficient in. As cautious health professionals, Martin and Kirsenbaum base supplement recommendations specifically for each individual.
Marcy Kirshenbaum, 350 Pfingsten Rd. Ste. 109, Northbrook. Call 847-987-1128. Visit EnhanceNutrition.net. See ad on page 43 and in the Community Resource Guide.
Dr. Kim Martin, North Shore Health Solutions, 1446 Techny Rd., Northbrook. 847-715-9060, NorthShoreHealthSolutions.com. See ad on page 9 and in the Community Resource Guide.