How to Beat Diabetes Naturally
According to Health Canada, in the last year alone, nearly 29 percent of Canadians were diagnosed or living with diabetes or prediabetes, with that number set to increase to over 33 percent in the next ten years. Diabetes contributes to 30 percent of strokes, 40 percent of heart attacks, 50 percent of kidney failure requiring dialysis, 70 percent of all non-traumatic leg and foot amputations, and is the leading cause of blindness. Staggering, isn’t it? While for some, diabetes is a lifelong battle, the good news is that for a large percentage of this population it can not only be reversible, but preventable altogether!
How Sweet Is It?
When we eat, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, the body’s primary energy source, which is released into the bloodstream. The pancreas responds to this spike in glucose by producing insulin, a hormone that is essential for enabling glucose access to the body’s cells. Excess glucose that can’t be used for energy conversion is stored in the liver in the form of glycogen, which is then released when insulin levels are low (usually between meals). This helps keep blood sugar levels stable. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough/any insulin or the insulin produced isn’t used efficiently, leaving the body unable to effectively move glucose out of the bloodstream, leading to unhealthy blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t always indicate something is wrong until a prediabetic state has moved into full-blown diabetes, but it’s important to watch out for the following symptoms:
- increased thirst and hunger
- more frequent urination
- frequent infections
- slow healing wounds
- blurred vision
- nerve pain or numbness
- dark patches in the folds of the skin (especially the neck, armpits, and groin area)
Risk Range: To help determine the risk of diabetes, routine bloodwork will typically be prescribed. For example, fasting blood glucose (FBG) levels can show how much sugar is circulating in the blood overnight at a fasting state, and the hemoglobin A1C test can provide the average blood glucose level over a three-month span.
Normal, healthy range: FBG is < 5.6mmol/L and/or A1C is < 5.5%
Normal, but increased prediabetic risk: FBG is 5.6–6.0mmol/L and/or A1C is 5.5–5.9%
Prediabetic: FBG is 6.1–6.9 mmol/L and/or A1C is 6.0–6.4%
Diabetic: FBG is > 7.0mmol/L and/or A1C is > 6.5 %
What’s Your Type?
- Type 1 Insulin Dependent Diabetes is typically diagnosed during childhood and is largely due to genetics. Lifestyle factors do not play a significant role in causing it, although they can have a serious impact in exacerbating the symptoms. Because sufferers of type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin on their own, insulin injections or pumps are required.
- Gestational Diabetes happens during pregnancy and occurs when there is higher concentration of circulating blood glucose levels. While it usually corrects itself after delivery of the baby, it does signify the chance of an increased risk of diabetes later in life.
- Type 2 Diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and accounts for more than 90 percent of the total cases. It is most often diagnosed later in life and typically starts out as insulin resistance, a condition where the body’s intake of sugar is greater than the body’s ability to produce insulin. Over time, the body becomes unable keep up with the constant increased demand for insulin, which, in turn, results in more sugar or glucose circulating in the blood, and may also result in the body’s desensitization to the already increased insulin load, throwing it into further imbalance as the cells begin to require even larger amounts of insulin to move the glucose from the blood to the cells.
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, it is essential to get control over the glucose levels in the blood to prevent complications from occurring. If these have already developed by the time of diagnosis, the faster the glucose levels are controlled, the easier it will be to reverse these complications, unless severe damage has already occurred.
Complications of diabetes may include:
- Nephropathy (kidney disease) may occur because of damage to the kidney from high glucose in the blood as well as high blood pressure
- Retinopathy (eye damage) as a result of damage to the micro blood vessels in the eyes, which can cause vision changes or even blindness
- Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage), most commonly in the nerve endings of the hands and feet can lead to extensive damage, infection, and possible amputation
- Heart disease and stroke, particularly the risks of coronary heart disease, are increased for those with diabetes
While this can feel overwhelming, the good news is that in most cases changes in lifestyle and additional support can help treat and reverse both prediabetes and the early stages of diabetes. Consider the following as part of a preventative or treatment model:
Building a Diabetes Diet Plan
Regardless of the treatment or approach, the main goal is to reduce the amount of sugar that is in the blood, and controlling the amount of glucose consumed is a great way to start. The Mediterranean diet, paleo diet, and even Keto-type diets have been proven to help reduce sugar levels, but since diets aren’t one-size-fits-all, working with your healthcare provider is the best option for customizing a plan that fits your needs. However, some basic suggestions include:
Quit the quick carbs
The type of carbohydrates and sugars we consume impact how quickly they are metabolized into our blood. Reduce or eliminate refined or processed carbohydrates such as bread, crackers, and pasta, as well as food with added refined sugar, such as candy, chocolate, pop, juice, and baked goods. These all break down into sugar very quickly in our systems, which lead to sugar spikes and excess amounts of glucose in the blood.
Slow the sugar flow
Aim for carbohydrates that are more slowly metabolized. These tend to be from whole grains, legumes, and vegetables that have a higher fibre content, which help slow their breakdown to glucose.
Invoke the veggies
Increase vegetable intake—the more the merrier! Vegetables low in starch and high in colour help to keep blood sugar levels stabilized and maintain satiation. Focus on produce that is low on the glycemic index (GI), such as green vegetables, and fruits such as cherries, grapefruit, and pears!
Cue the legumes
As you reduce your carbohydrate intake, balance it by including more healthy fats and proteins with every meal and snack. Fat and protein help slow down the metabolization process, prevent glucose surges, and keep us feeling satiated longer. Include foods such as lean fish and meat, lentils, legumes, and nuts and seeds.
Hike the hydration
Increase water intake, and reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption.
Inflate the fibre
Maintain a more balanced blood sugar level by aiming for at least 25g of fibre daily.
Beating diabetes: lifestyle changes
Excercise, sleep, and reducing stress levels are crucial to beating diabetes!
Daily exercise is essential in the management or prevention of diabetes, as it helps the body to use the insulin it produces more effectively in the cells. Exercise is so important, in fact, that studies have shown that it can help improve diabetes management up to 58 percent more effectively than with diet and/or medication.
Stress plays a role in causing spikes and dips in our blood sugar which means finding healthy ways to reduce stress levels like meditation or yoga can actually help balance glucose levels.
A good night’s sleep does more than just make you feel more rested. It can help alleviate sugar cravings and promotes fewer stress hormones.
Everybody poops. Ensure you are having easily formed and regular daily bowel movements.
Sometimes diet and exercise need a little help to bring down glucose levels to a healthy number. A few natural options (under the guidance of your healthcare provider) have proven helpful at decreasing blood glucose levels and maintaining a healthier hemoglobin A1C:
- Chromium is a mineral the body needs to aid in the metabolism and transport of glucose and a deficiency can impair this regulation. Studies suggest 200 mcg daily is an average adequate dose.
- Cinnamon, added daily to the diet, can help improve sugar metabolism and absorption.
- Berberine, a bioactive compound readily found in plants like barberry and golden seal, has been shown in studies to have some serious skills for quickly improving A1C and blood lipid levels, and has been touted as being equal to pharmaceutical medications such as Metformin. It’s important to note that the dosing and prescription of berberine should only be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider.
Whether you’re struggling with prediabetes or a diabetes diagnosis, there are a myriad of ways that your health can be greatly supported and improved by a few basic diet and lifestyle changes. Connecting with a healthcare provider you trust and taking those first few steps to get your glucose levels under control can help take your diabetes in a different direction.