Diabetes is a condition marked by too much glucose, or sugar in the blood. There are 2 types of diabetes. The first is called type 1, or insulin dependent diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas quits producing insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is non-insulin dependent and results when the cells of the body become insulin resistant, meaning that they no longer respond to the insulin produced. Type 2 diabetes is the most common. About 90 percent of diabetics have type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death by disease in this country. It is also a major contributor to conditions such as blindness, kidney disease, memory loss, amputations of the lower extremities and premature death from heart disease.
The incidence of diabetes has tripled in the last 35 years and is expected to double again within the next 15 to 20 years. One of the most dramatic changes in disease patterns has been the appearance of type 2 diabetes in children. Ten years ago, this type of diabetes did not occur in children; however, now there is a significant increase in this age group which directly corresponds to the rising rates of obesity in children.
You are at risk for type 2 diabetes if you: are over the age of 55; have a family history of diabetes; are overweight; have high blood pressure; have had gestational diabetes; or are from particular ethnic backgrounds such as American Indian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican American, or African American.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by inappropriate diet, inactivity and deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals. The good news is that type 2 diabetes responds very well to exercise, dietary changes and nutritional supplements.
Exercise is particularly effective at removing glucose from the bloodstream. It increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin and lowers insulin requirements.
Dietary changes are extremely important in managing blood sugar levels in the body. One of the key concepts around diet for diabetics is the glycemic index or GI. Glycemic index is a measure of the quality of a carbohydrate based on its immediate effect on blood sugar levels. High GI foods are those that have a quick and high blood-glucose response. Low GI foods break down slowly in the digestive tract, releasing glucose gradually.
There are several good books on the glycemic index. These include Sugar Busters and The Glycemic Load Diet.
Nutritional supplements fall into several categories. There are supplements that improve insulin sensitivity. These include chromium (see recent article), alpha lipoic acid, and coenzyme Q10. And, I particularly like the multi-vitamin called GlucoBalance.
Other supplements help guard against the complications of diabetes. These include magnesium, B vitamins, essential fatty acids and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, grape seed extract and alpha lipoic acid.
Finally there are herbs that have various beneficial actions. Gymnema is known for slowing absorption of sugars in addition to revitalizing the pancreas. Banaba leaf and bitter melon help in glucose transport and lowering blood sugar. Bilberry helps with diabetic retinopathy. Ginkgo biloba aids with circulation in the extremities and with memory loss.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.