Diabetes and What you can do about it.
Updated: Apr 14, 2022
Diabetes Mellitus can be scary, but I am hoping after this article you will have a better understanding of what it is and things you can do nutritionally to help combat and potentially reverse it. This article is not a replacement for your health care provider.
There are 2 types of diabetes. Type 1 occurs when you are younger and it is usually due to auto-immune issues. It is when the beta cells of the pancreas get destroyed and you are no longer able to produce insulin. 1 Type 2 usually occurs when you are older. This one occurs because your body loses the ability to sense insulin which in turn causes your cells to become resistant to insulin.1 Some major risk factors are obesity, family history, diet, exercise, and lifestyle. This is why I am going to concentrate this article on Type 2 Diabetes because that is the one that is most in your control.
A normal range is below 5.7% on an A1c blood test and fasting glucose under 99 mg/dL. There is also pre diabetes which the A1c is between 5.7 and 6.4% and fasting glucose of 100-125mg/dL. Diabetes is classified as an A1c being above 6.5% and fasting glucose that is above 126. Usually, this is diagnosed with abnormal reading on two separate occasions. IF you have a glucose reading that is above 200 mg/dL with symptoms that I go into detail later, that is also a positive diagnosis. This should be tested yearly because if not caught soon enough, other complications can arise that may not be reversible. These complications are neuropathy in hands and feet, chronic kidney disease, eye damage that can lead to blindness, slow healing time, and increase risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis just to name a few.2
In the early stages of diabetes, symptoms are usually not seen, but the higher the levels get for an extended amount of time, the more symptoms can occur. These symptoms are anything from increased thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, fatigue, blurred vision, slow healing sores, and/or frequent infections, numbness, or tingling in hands or feet.2 It is important to seek care at this point because you may need to start a medication like Metformin or some other anti-diabetic drug. If your labs are too high you might have to start on insulin which can be short-acting or long-acting shots that you will have to administer daily to yourself.
Now that you know what Diabetes is, how it is diagnosed, and what signs and symptoms to look for, let's discuss what you can do now to help lower your risk. There have been several trials that have shown that lifestyle and dietary changes can be utilized to effectively prevent Diabetes Type 2.1 At least 15 grams of protein should be eaten with each meal.3 This is important because protein makes sure your body does not have too high of highs and too low of lows with glucose. It is also important to incorporate 25-40 grams per day of fiber because it has been shown to lower your average daily glucose levels.1 It is also important to eat low glycemic foods and low glycemic vegetables while trying to avoid all simple, processed, and concentrated carbohydrates. When carbohydrates are broken down in our bodies, they are actually turned into sugar. Sugar is another name for glucose, so therefore also cutting down on foods with refined sugar like candy, soda, and juice is important.4 One way to make this process easier is to start eating a whole foods diet that includes fresh vegetables and protein while cutting out processed foods.
Exercise has been shown to directly improve insulin sensitivity.1 There are three specific types of exercise that are important for people with diabetes. They are aerobic, strength training, and stretching.1 Aerobic exercise is very important for the prevention as well as treatment of diabetes.1 This type of exercise includes walking, swimming, cycling, and jogging. It is suggested to do 30 minutes of this type of exercise 5 times a week.1 Strength training should be done 15 to 30 minutes 5 times a week.1 This type of exercise is important because it allows you to gain muscle as well as protect you against losing lean muscle.1 Stretching should be done daily and it is important because people who have diabetes tend to have premature stiffening of the spine and joints.1
There are also supplements that can be utilized to help with glucose control. The first that comes to mind is Chromium because it works closely with insulin to facilitate the uptake of glucose in each cell.1 Vitamin C is also important because people who have diabetes tend to have a deficiency.1 Omega 3 fatty acids are also a key supplement for diabetics as well as people in general. It offers anti-inflammatory properties as well as protects against cardiovascular disease.1 B vitamins, specifically niacin/niacinamide is important for fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrate metabolism.1
This is just the tip of the iceberg of how nutrition, exercise, and supplements can assist with the prevention and treatment of Diabetes Type 2. If you have more questions contact a Naturopathic Doctor or Functional Medical Doctor to get more information.
1. Pizzorno, J., Murray, M. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 4th ed. Churchill Livingstone; 2013.
2. Type 2 diabetes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20351193. Published January 20, 2021. Accessed November 15, 2021.
3. Brown-Riggs C. Protein and Diabetes: What You Need to Know. DiaTribe Learn. https://diatribe.org/protein-and-diabetes-what-you-need-know. Published March 15, 2021. Accessed November 15, 2021.
4. Fletcher J. Everything to know about carbs and diabetes. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/carbs-and-diabetes. Published April 14, 2021. Accessed November 15, 2021.
Liza Aberle, ND
Note, this article has also been published in the Good Earth Food Coop's newsletter. The Good Earth is my favorite grocery store in St. Cloud. Here's the link: https://bit.ly/3xr35k0