Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone necessary to convert sugar, starches and other food into the energy we need for daily life.
There are two major types of diabetes:
Type I. Also called juvenile diabetes, type I diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all cases of diabetes. In type I diabetics, the body does not produce any insulin; people with this form of diabetes must take daily insulin injections to stay alive. This type is initially diagnosed most often in children and young adults.
Type II. Also called adult-onset diabetes, type II diabetes is a metabolic disorder resulting from the body's inability to properly use or ultimately make enough insulin. It is the most common form of the disease, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes. Type II diabetes is nearing epidemic proportions, a result of a greater prevalence of obesity and sedentary lifestyles (two reasons more children are being diagnosed with type II diabetes) and an increasing number of older Americans in the population.
Causes and Symptoms
The causes and triggers of diabetes remain a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors (such as obesity and lack of exercise) appear to play roles.
Diabetes often goes undiagnosed since many of its symptoms seem harmless or commonplace. However, early detection of diabetes can decrease the chance of developing diabetes complications. According to the American Diabetes Association, common symptoms of diabetes include:
Unusual weight loss
Suggested Lifestyle Changes
Insulin-dependent diabetics are unlikely to be able to discontinue insulin use, and should never attempt to do so.
Lose weight if you are overweight. Excess body fat causes the body cells to become resistant to insulin.
Eat small, frequent meals to keep blood sugars in a healthy range. Eating large meals can flood the bloodstream with glucose and insulin. Experiment until you find that you feel your best.
Keep refined starches and sugars to a minimum, choosing those with a low glycemic index. (Sweet potatoes, winter squash and beans are examples of better carbohydrates.) You should also be aware of glycemic load in assessing dietary choices.
Keep saturated fats and trans-fats to a minimum, but consume moderate amounts of monounsaturated oils, such as olive oil and some nut oils.
Eat fish several times a week, emphasizing wild, cold-water fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines. Or take omega-3 supplements.
Eat generous amounts of non-starchy vegetables, like cucumbers, bell peppers, dark leafy greens, zucchini, eggplant, squash, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, beans, radishes and spinach.
Increase your activity level. Aerobic activity improves insulin resistance in muscle cells, which allows more glucose to enter the cells. Aim for 30 minutes a day.
Since type I and type II diabetics are at increased risk for a variety of diseases and complications, symptoms should be taken seriously and addressed immediately, and lifestyle changes should be attempted and adhered to. Complications associated with diabetes include retinopathy (diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision impairment in the U.S.), neuropathies (damage to small nerves) and nephropathies (kidney damage). Diabetics also face increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure (twice as common in diabetics as in non-diabetics), strokes or cerebrovascular disease (mortality rates from this disorder are three- to five-times higher in diabetics) and peripheral vascular disease.
Nutrition and Supplements
In addition to the suggested dietary changes above, work with a doctor and a nutritionist to develop a personalized diet. Since insulin production, blood sugar levels, and the types of foods a diabetic eats play a large role in the management of the disease, it is important to adhere to a healthy diet.
Research has shown that several nutritional elements may be helpful for people with diabetes. These include magnesium and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Lower glycemic-index foods have also been shown to be helpful with blood sugar control. Try the following:
Eat magnesium-rich foods every day. This includes spinach, tofu, almonds, broccoli and lentils. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are also good sources of magnesium.
Eat fish, fish-oil supplements, or another source of omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts or freshly ground flaxseed daily.
The following are nutrients, botanicals and other compounds that Dr. Weilโ€s Vitamin Advisor recommends for persons being treated for diabetes.
Chromium. Chromium is a trace element that plays a role in blood sugar regulation by working with insulin to help transport glucose into cells. Take up to 1,000 micrograms of GTF chromium daily.
Alpha lipoic acid. This antioxidant can enhance the uptake of glucose into cells and help inhibit glycosylation (the abnormal attachment of sugar to proteins, which hinders their normal functioning), as well as help promote and maintain eye health. Start with 100 mg per day.
Magnesium. Research suggests that supplementing with magnesium can help promote healthy insulin production. (Magnesium glycinate is a good form, with less of a laxative effect than other forms of magnesium. Take 400 mg daily.)
Coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant which may help maintain a healthy heart. Take 60-100 mg of a softgel form with your largest meal.
The following botanicals may also help. Consider using them in standardized extract form and follow the dosage directions on the packages:
Asian bitter melon (Momordica charantia)
Ayurvedic Gurmar (Gymnema sylvestre)
Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia)
Diabetics who are taking prescribed medications for any condition should let their physicians know when they're experimenting with these remedies. As sugar metabolism improves, dosages of medications may need to be adjusted.