** National Diabetes Week 10th-16th July 2016 **
By the year 2031, it is estimated that 3.3 million Australians will be living with diabetes*.
There are 2 different types of diabetes, and most of us are familiar with the basics:
- Type 1 diabetes is also known as ‘juvenile diabetes’, because it typically (but not always) starts during childhood. In Type 1 diabetes the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed by the immune system (meaning that Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease). People with Type 1 diabetes require insulin medication for the rest or their lives, and need to monitor their blood glucose levels regularly. An abnormal or uncontrolled fluctuation of blood glucose levels in a Type 1 diabetic can be life-threatening.
- Type 2 diabetes is often called ‘adult-onset diabetes, because it usually occurs during the older years of life. In Type 2 diabetes, often the pancreas is still producing insulin, but the body doesn’t respond to the insulin very well. Type 2 diabetes is often related to diet and/or lifestyle, with most sufferers being overweight or obese. Losing weight, eating better quality foods, getting some exercise, and managing stress levels can go a long way towards reducing or even resolving Type 2 diabetes.
Some women develop a temporary form of diabetes during pregnancy, known as ‘gestational diabetes’, which usually goes away once the baby is born. However, women who experience gestational diabetes are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Natural Strategies for Type 2 Diabetes – How You May Reduce Your Risk
We’ve actually been in ‘energy excess’ mode for the past 50 years, which can, in part, explain the huge increase in diabetes diagnosis. We’ve been eating 30% more and moving 40% less, which equates to a relative difference of 70%! And a lot of this extra food we’ve been eating is in the form of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread/pasta/rice, sugar, and processed breakfast cereals. When we eat too many of these, too frequently, and in large quantities, they can overload our body’s capacity to deal with them. This can lead to fatigue, weight gain and increased appetite due to blood sugar fluctuations.
Natural Strategy #1 – Nourish Your Body
Try a few simple swaps in your day-to-day food choices:
- Aim to eat some protein with most meals – start your day with foods such as eggs, fish, baked beans or a protein-based smoothie made with a good-quality protein powder rather than a pre-packaged cereal. Not only are most cereals filled with sugar, they cause a blood sugar peak, then a drop later on in the morning (ever had the mid-morning munchies where you just HAVE to have that iced donut? Yep, that’s your blood sugar crashing). Protein helps keep you fuller for longer, and reduce cravings for the stuff you know you are better off without.
- Raw nuts, seeds (or a mixture of both), or plain unsweetened yoghurt make quick and easy snacks that won’t send your blood sugar see-sawing. This can be a particularly useful tactic if you find you have a tendency to have a mid-afternoon energy slump.
- Swap sparkling mineral water with a dash of fresh lemon/lime juice or a few mint leaves instead of sugary soft drinks.
Natural Strategy #2 – Look After Your Gut
On the surface, your digestive health may not appear to have much to do with your body’s blood glucose levels, however there is emerging evidence that having a good healthy population of gut bacteria (gut flora) helps keep your blood sugar levels steady, as well as influencing your appetite.
Some interesting studies have shown that people who have lower levels of good bacteria in their gut tend to be fatter, and are more likely to develop pre-diabetes and a poor lipid profile (unhealthy blood fats) than those people who possess a healthy gut flora.
There is also evidence that your very own colony of gut bacteria influences what kinds of foods you choose to eat – they can actually drive your cravings for healthy, or not-so-healthy foods! Amazing!
Help boost your population of good bacteria by eating plenty of fermented foods such as unsweetened yoghurt, sauerkraut and kombucha. Taking a good-quality (refrigerated!) probiotic supplement can also be a good idea.
Natural Strategy #3 – Use Supportive Nutrients & Herbs
Whilst a healthy diet, exercise, addressing gut health and reducing stress all play a role in the management of Type 2 Diabetes, there are some extra supportive nutrients and herbs that I love to use with my diabetic patients in the clinic.
- Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre) is a herb that may help to reduce sugar cravings and reduce blood glucose levels. The original name is actually derived from a Hindu word that means ‘sugar-buster’.
- Chromium is a trace mineral that is required by the body in order to break down and utilise carbohydrates properly, and keep blood sugar levels steady. Studies suggest that chromium supplementation may also help support healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Chromium is found naturally in white fish, parsley, olives and cottage cheese.
- Magnesium deficiency can aggravate insulin resistance (pre-diabetes). It is quite common for diabetic patients to have low levels of magnesium. Magnesium can be found in foods such as red meat, chicken, turkey, raw nuts (macadamias, almonds, Brazil, pecans, walnuts), sesame seeds, bananas, shallots, legumes and spinach. If you are taking a supplementary magnesium, be aware that many popular over-the-counter brands contain a form of magnesium that is not well absorbed by the body.
As always, I don’t recommend self-prescribing herbs or supplements, particularly in serious conditions such as diabetes – always see a qualified naturopath, herbalist or nutritional medicine practitioner who can guide you to the most effective natural support for your unique situation.