Diabetes Treatment in VT
Diabetes is a major public health issue, and there are two different types. Type 1 diabetes (previously called juvenile diabetes) usually starts in childhood. It is caused by problems with the pancreas that result in a decreased production of insulin. People with type 1 diabetes therefore need insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes (previously called adult onset diabetes) is caused by insulin resistance. Cells in the body stop responding to insulin the way they should, so the pancreas (which works fine in this type of diabetes) makes more and more insulin. Type 2 diabetes is becoming more and more common, as it is associated with the obesity epidemic.
This article will focus on type 2 diabetes, which is the most common type. It is mostly a lifestyle disease caused by lack of exercise, poor diet, and weight gain, although genetics do play a role as well.
Natural Treatment Options for Diabetes
There are a variety of natural treatment options for diabetes. In our experience, most people with prediabetes (a precursor to type 2 diabetes) are able to cure their prediabetes with this approach. Once someone has developed full diabetes, however, this gets harder to do. Most often what happens is a reduction in blood sugar and less organ damage from the diabetes.
The primary natural treatments for diabetes are as follows:
- Change your diet (we get the best results with a low glycemic diet)
- Exercise more
- Lose weight
- Take natural supplements
Changing your Diet for Diabetes
Low glycemic diets can be very effective to treat and reverse type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. Low glycemic diets are focused on eating foods with a low Glycemic Index (GI). When you eat most starchy or sweet foods (like bread, pasta, pastries, or dessert), your blood sugar rises quickly. Even though most bread contains very little sugar, the starch in it is quickly digested by your gut and turned into sugar, which is then rapidly absorbed into your blood. The GI is a measure of how much your blood sugar goes up after you eat different foods. The scale goes from 0 to 100, with 100 equaling pure sugar (glucose). The higher the number, the more a food makes your sugar go up. White bread has a GI of about 75, for example, and mashed potatoes are about 87. Kidneys beans, on the other hand, have a GI of about 24. The type of carbohydrate in beans is digested very slowly, so they have very little impact on your blood sugar.
When you eat a high GI food and your blood sugar goes up, your body has to make more insulin to bring it back down. In the short term, this is what should happen. In the long term, however, the cells in your body can become resistant to insulin from repeated exposure to high levels of it. As this progresses, it takes more and more insulin to have the same effect. This is known as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the process that eventually leads to type 2 diabetes.
In the early stages of insulin resistance, higher levels of insulin will still do the job and blood sugar remains normal (a condition known as metabolic syndrome) or mildly elevated (prediabetes). Eventually the resistance gets bad enough that blood sugar rises significantly, and then you have diabetes.
The Low Glycemic Eating Plan to Prevent, Treat, and Reverse Diabetes
The main goal in the prevention, treatment, and reversal of diabetes is to prevent these blood sugar and insulin spikes by eating primarily low glycemic foods. There are a variety of diets that have been popularized that are all based on the GI to one extent or another. Examples include the ketogenic diet, the Atkins diet, the paleo diet, Sugar Busters , South Beach, and others. All of these diets can be effective. When we designed our Low Glycemic Eating Plan, we tried to make it as simple and easy to follow as we could. It is much less restrictive than the Atkins, ketogenic, and paleo diets, for example. You may be able to drop your blood sugar faster with a ketogenic diet, but most people are able to lower their blood sugar and insulin levels more sustainably and more safely with our Low Glycemic Eating Plan.
Our Low Glycemic Eating Plan has only 3 simple rules:
- Avoid added sugars like cane sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, and honey
- Limit your starches from grains and potatoes (bread, pasta, cereal, etc.) to 1 whole grain per day if you have prediabetes. For people who have progressed to diabetes, we recommend not eating any of these starches.
- Eat all the fruit, vegetable, and protein you want
Reducing high GI foods with any of these diets also generally makes people feel better in a variety of ways. Here are some other changes people often see when they follow a low GI diet:
- More energy, less fatigue (this is very common)
- Better mood (less anxiety and depression)
- Weight loss
- Less inflammation (less pain)
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
- Better cognition (memory, focus, concentration)
- Fewer cravings
Getting these additional benefits can be a powerful motivator to continue with the diet, and also helps to make it more sustainable. For more information on the glycemic index, click here.
Exercise More to Help your Diabetes
Exercise helps to reverse insulin resistance, the underlying process that causes type 2 diabetes. In addition, it also promotes weight loss, which helps to prevent and treat diabetes. Aerobic exercise like walking, tennis, running and skiing are usually best for this, but weight lifting can also be appropriate for some people. The main goal for most people is to increase your heart rate and breathing rate for 30-60 minutes daily. To learn more about exercise, click here.
Lose Weight to Help your Diabetes
Losing weight is key to preventing, treating, and reversing diabetes. The good news is that our other two recommendations, low glycemic eating and exercise, are usually very effective at promoting weight loss. Most people who do these two things don’t need to restrict their calories on purpose. Exercising and eating low glycemic foods usually change your body’s metabolism to promote weight loss. To learn more about weight loss, click here.
Supplements to Help your Diabetes
Natural supplements that are used for diabetes fall into two broad categories:
- Supplements to prevent complications from diabetes
- Supplements to lower your blood sugar levels
Diabetes can damage many tissues and organs in your body, especially the eyes, nerves, kidneys, and cardiovascular system. In some cases there are supplements that can help to prevent this damage. Here is a list of supplements and the type of damage they may help to prevent:
- Bilberry (a relative of the blueberry) to prevent retinopathy (eye damage)
- Alpha Lipoic Acid to prevent neuropathy (nerve damage)
The following supplements can help to improve blood sugar control:
- Bitter melon
- Fiber – water soluble fibers such as psyllium, guar gum, oat bran, or pectin can be very effective at lowering blood sugar and cholesterol as well
- Fenugreek seed
- Gymnema sylvestre
How We Can Help
Naturopathic doctors are physician experts in treating the underlying cause of disease and using natural medicines to help people get and stay well. For help with diabetes or to find out which natural treatments are appropriate for you, schedule an office visit.