Natural Trends in Diabetes Care

Herbs, supplements, diet, and exercise can help.

| September/October 2002

Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing diseases in the United States, currently affecting more than 6 million people. Diabetics cannot properly process glucose, a sugar the body uses for energy. Diabetes often involves the pancreas, which produces the hormone insulin. Insulin facilitates the entry of glucose into tissues where it is either stored or converted into energy. Without enough working insulin to help the sugar enter tissues, blood sugar, or blood glucose, rises. Causative factors of diabetes include stress, heredity, nonspecific viral infections, obesity, and excessive, chronic intake of refined sugar.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1, or insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune disease in which the body produces no insulin. Type 1 accounts for between 5 and 10 percent of diabetic sufferers in this country and occurs most often in children and young adults. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin injections daily. Type 2, or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, is far more common. It is a metabolic disorder in which the body does not produce enough—or cannot properly use—insulin. Type 2 usually develops in adults older than forty-five, about 80 percent of whom are overweight. Sadly, with obesity among children on the rise, Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in young people. Type 2 diabetics can often control their blood sugar through weight loss, diet, and exercise, sometimes combined with medication that enhances the effect of their own insulin.

Because the common symptoms of diabetes, which include frequent urination and excessive thirst and appetite, may not seem particularly serious, many diabetics do not consult a doctor about their condition. It is estimated that there are millions of Americans who have the disease and do not know it.

Among the chief complications of diabetes are heart disease and stroke, poor wound healing, nerve damage, higher risk of infections, and eye and kidney disease. Although diabetes is a serious medical condition and diabetics should be under the care of a practitioner, there are some natural options for managing the condition. Effective natural treatment for the diabetic entails the thoughtful incorporation of dietary and lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements, and herbs.

Diet—lowfat, low-sugar, high-fiber

As with other serious diseases, the increase in the numbers of diabetics corresponds with the common low-fiber, high-carbohydrate diet of our modern society. Many diabetics have experienced improvement in their condition when following a diet low in saturated fat and refined sugar and high in plant fiber, including whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, pears, apples, and most vegetables. A high-fiber diet reduces glucose levels after meals. Eating regular small, frequent meals helps the pancreas perform on a regular schedule. Eat slowly and chew food carefully.

Herbal author and educator Brigitte Mars says, “While the drawbacks of eating refined sugar are well known, perhaps less obvious is the common practice of refining grains. This turns grains into more simple carbohydrates, quickly elevating blood-sugar levels and causing them to fluctuate.” Mars says that this problem has been underscored by the prevalence of diabetes among Native Americans, many of whom are eating government-issued, bleached, processed grains. “So eating grains and other foods in their whole, unprocessed form may be a good preventive step to blood-sugar difficulties,” she says.

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