in Diabetes Treatment
by Dr. Lynn Hardy, N.D.
Director or the Global Institute For Alternative Medicine
According to the American Diabetes Association almost 16 million Americans have diabetes and the numbers are growing at an alarming rate. About five million of these are not even aware of their condition and are not under care for the disorder. Each year, about 798,000 new cases are diagnosed. Although it occurs most often in older adults, it has also become one of the most chronic disorders among American children. About 123,000 children and teenagers age 19 and younger have diabetes. The U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services lists diabetes as the sevenths leading cause of death among Americans.
Diabetes is a degenerative metabolic disorder affecting the way our bodies use digested food for growth and energy. Most of the food we eat is broken down by the digestive juices into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body. After digestion, the glucose passes into our bloodstream where it is available for body cells to use for growth and energy. For the glucose to get into the cells, insulin must be present. (Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach.) When we eat, the pancreas is supposed to produce the right amount of insulin automatically to move the glucose from our blood into our cells. In people with diabetes, however, the pancreas either produces little or no insulin, or the body cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood, overflows in the urine and passes out of the body. Thus, the body loses its main source of fuel even through the blood contains large amounts of glucose.
There are three types of diabetes:
Type I - occurs when the pancreas produces very little insulin or non at all. The body needs insulin to use sugar for energy. Approximately 10 percent of people with diabetes, mostly children and young adults, have Type I diabetes.
Type II - occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body does not use the insulin produced effectively. Ninety percent of people with diabetes have Type II, including an increasing number of children.
Gestational - is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. It affects two to four percent of all pregnancies with an increased risk of developing diabetes for both mother and child.
Type II diabetes is often preceded by a set of symptoms called Syndrome X, which leads to insulin resistance. This syndrome can exist for years before diabetes (or other diseases such as cancer and heart disease) develops. Twenty-five percent of American may suffer from Syndrome X. Among the signs of Syndrome X are feeling tired after you eat and other times when you shouldn't, gaining weight and having trouble losing it, and having blood pressure and cholesterol levels creep up over time. Syndrome X can be reversed through diet, exercise and getting the proper amount of nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin C and Chromium.
Diabetes poses several serious health threats for its victims. It may lead to blindness, hypertension, depression, atherosclerosis, kidney failure, limb amputation, and more than doubles the risk for heart disease and stroke. Since so many people are not even aware that they have diabetes, treatment and lifestyle changes often come much too late. Some people actually have the disease for 5-10 years before they are diagnosed and by then irreversible tissue and organ damage may have taken place.
In the past 40 years the incidence of Type II diabetes has increased an unbelievable 600%. Genetics plays a large part in the development of diabetes but we can't blame heredity alone for this frightening epidemic. Since our genetic make-up doesn't change so drastically overnight, we must look at other contributing factors.
For the most part we have our modern sedentary western lifestyle to blame for our deteriorating health and diabetes is no exception. Unfortunately, regular exercise does not play a big part in the lives of most Americans and in the words of Andrew Weil, M.D., the author of several best-selling alternative health books: "An estimated one quarter of all cases of Type II diabetes could be prevented with 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity alone." According to a study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association, regular moderate to vigorous activity five times a week is a good base line. Exercise stabilizes blood sugar, decreases insulin resistance, reduces the need for insulin treatments and helps control weight.
According to a Harvard research, men who watched 21-40 hours of TV a week had more than twice the risk of developing diabetes than men who watched little or no television. Which brings us to the major contributing factor in diabetes- obesity. Nearly every person who develops Type II diabetes is overweight. Therefore, we must conclude that diet also plays a big part in the prevention and the treatment of diabetes. Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizerno, N.D. write in the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: "Even in normal individuals, significant weight gain results in carbohydrate intolerance, higher insulin levels, and insulin insensitivity in fat and muscle tissue. The progressive development of insulin insensitivity is believed to be the underlying factor in the development of Type II diabetes. Weight loss alone can correct all of these abnormalities and either significantly improves diabetes or totally resolves it."
Diet and Diabetes
Refined carbohydrates (the staple food of the American diet), including white flour, sugar, white bread, pasta, white rice, etc., can all rapidly boost blood sugar levels. Instead, we should eat foods that are high in fiber, like whole grains, legumes and fresh vegetables. "The star player in this (diabetes) diet", writes Dr. Whitaker in his book Dr. Whitaker's Guide to Natural Health, "is the legume family. These foods are full of fiber-rich compounds. Fiber is an important dietary strategy with obesity but in the bloodstream of the diabetic legume fibers having particular value. They help control blood glucose levels. My recommendation is actually for a 'HCLRHF Diet' high-complex-carbohydrate, legume-rich, high fiber. This combination helps to improve all aspects of diabetic control."
To avoid further burdening an already weak immune system, diabetics must stay away from commercial products and buy organic meat, produce and dairy as much as possible. Needless to say, junk food, processed foods, hydrogenated oils (such as margarine) and sweets should also be omitted from the diet. Since sugar is one of the greatest enemies of the diabetic many people have a very difficult time finding a healthy alternative. Although certain artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, are deemed "safe" for diabetics, research shows that they are composed of deadly chemicals that can cause brain cancer, memory loss, headaches, and a myriad of other conditions. The only sugar alternative I would recommend is a South American herb called Stevia. It contains virtually no calories and according to research, it can actually lower blood sugar levels. Stevia has been safely used for centuries by Paraguayan Indians and for decades in Japan, where artificial sweeteners are banned.
Type II diabetes is most commonly treated with sulfa (sulfonylureas) drugs, to enhance the sensitivity of tissues to insulin and to stimulate the pancreas to secrete more insulin. This would appear to be an ideal solution - but is it? Dr. Whitaker explains:
"In terms of effectiveness, in 40 percent of cases, blood sugar levels can no longer be controlled by these drugs after three months of continual treatment at an adequate dosage. Diabetes is a lifelong disease. Sulfonylureas generally lose their effectiveness over time.
The overall success rate of adequate control over long-term use of these drugs is no more than 20 to 30 percent. There is tremendous evidence that these drugs produce harmful long-term side effects. The evidence also suggests that these drugs can contribute to early death. The University Group Diabetes Program (UDGP) conducted a study on the long-term effect of tolbutamide, (a drug used for the treatment of diabetes) and concluded that the rate of death due to heart attack or stroke was 250 percent greater for users of tolbutamide than for the group controlling their Type II diabetes by diet alone. The drug had magnified the heart disease risk that diabetes sufferers already face. Other side effects noted with the drugs are hypoglycemia, allergic skin reactions, headache, fatigue, indigestion, nausea and vomiting, and liver damage. Roughly one of every five patients may have long-term benefits, but 100 percent of these patients face potentially serious risks."
Dr. Michael Berger, M.S. Professor of Medicine at Dusseldorf University, Germany, in his book Oral Agents in the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus, sums it up the following way: "Unfortunately, the use of sulfonylureas drugs has become entrenched as the treatment of laziness, both on part of the physician and the patient. How much easier it is to prescribe or swallow a pill than to explain or observe a weight-reducing diet in combination with an increase in caloric expenditure (exercise)."
Certain vitamins and natural supplements have proven to be very effective in controlling diabetes. The most well-known and probably most popular of these is chromium. Clinical studies in diabetics have shown that supplementing the diet with chromium can decrease total cholesterol and triglyceride levels while increasing HDL-cholesterol levels, and lower body weight while increasing lead body mass. GTF (glucose tolerant factor) chromium proves to be the best form of chromium for diabetes because the body better tolerates it.
In addition to supplementing with chromium Dr. Andrew Weil, best selling author of numerous health books, recommends trying some traditional remedies to lower blood sugar, such as Gymnema sylvestre. This plant native to the tropical forests of India is also known as "sugar blocker" and according to recent scientific investigations, has upheld its effectiveness in treating both Type I and Type II diabetes.
Certain vitamins, minerals and natural nutrients also play an important role in controlling and preventing diabetes:
Magnesium - for enzyme systems and PH balance. Magnesium deficiency is very common in diabetics and magnesium may prevent some of the complication of diabetes such as retinopathy and heart disease.
Vitamin B6 - as the vitamin B6 levels inside the cells of the body appear to be intricately linked to the magnesium content of the cell. In other words, without the vitamin B6, magnesium will not get inside the cell and will, therefore, be useless.
Manganese - helps repair the pancreas and is a co-factor in key enzymes of glucose metabolism. Diabetics have been shown to have only one-half the manganese of healthy individuals.
Vitamin C - helps maintain vascular health and strengthen the immune system. And since the transport of vitamin C is facilitated by insulin, many diabetics are deficient of this crucial vitamin.
Vitamin E - helps improve circulation and insulin action and helps prevent the long-term complications of the disease.
Zinc - zinc deficiency has been associated with diabetes.
Omega-3 - diabetics are generally deficient of essential fatty acids or have an imbalance. Omega-3 has been shown to lower triglycerides.
Vitamin B12 - is necessary in the prevention of diabetic neuropathy.
Coenzyme Q10 - stimulates the production of insulin.
Digestive Enzymes - especially helpful when the pancreas is not functioning optimally.
Chelation Therapy - effective in preventing complications association with diabetes.
Homeopathy sees diabetes as a reflection of the body's inability to function optimally, an imbalance that results in the body's incapacity to effectively utilize the insulin that it produces, or to produce sufficient insulin for its needs. According to Alternative Medicine The Definitive Guide: " Homeopathy is a complete system of natural medicine that can have a therapeutic effect on almost any disease or health condition."
The metabolic condition of a patient suffering from diabetes requires both therapeutic and nutritional measures to correct the illness. Along with the patient's strict compliance to a proper diet, homeopathy can regulate sugar metabolism while helping to resolve metabolic disturbances that lead to diabetes. Furthermore, homeopathy helps stimulate the body's self-healing powers to prevent health conditions related to the illness, such as glaucoma, hardening of the liver, hypertension, depression, atherosclerosis, kidney failure, rheumatic processes, heart disease, etc.
"Homeopathy has been of tremendous value in reversing diseases such as diabetes…" - states George Vithoulkas, Director of the Athenian School of Homeopathic Medicine in Athens, Greece.
Diabetes is a very serious disease, but the treatment doesn't have to be. Lifestyle modifications, weight loss, exercise, along with the right vitamins, supplements, and homeopathic remedies, can make a tremendous difference. But, due to the fact that natural approaches can alter the need for both insulin and insulin-control drugs, it is highly important to monitor one's glucose levels carefully, either with the help of glucose monitoring tests or through a physician. It is a good idea to find a practitioner who is supportive of alternative treatments and can further advise on the necessary lifestyle changes. The goal of any doctor or patient should be to bring high blood sugar under control and to stabilize it at a normal level. This can best be achieved by a treatment approach that encourages diabetics to become actively responsible for their own health.
Dr. Hardy is a board certified Naturopathic Doctor and a Certified Nutritional Consultant. She studied nutrition at the Packard School of Nutrition in Sudbury, ON and began her N.D. education at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada. She continued her education and obtained her N.D. diploma in the United States. She is an active member of the American Naturopathic Medical Association, the American Association for Nutritional Consultants, the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, and the American Holistic Health Association. Her health articles have appeared in dozens of publications in nine different languages. Her expertise and experience includes designing custom dietary formulas, researching and evaluating new health products, and educating employees in the natural health industry. For contact or other information, visit Global Institute for Alternative Medicine