By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
Diabetes. If you don’t have it, you probably know someone who does. Type 2 diabetes – also known as adult onset diabetes – has become an epidemic in the U.S. More than 20 million of us suffer from the disease. More frightening still, type 2 diabetes, once rare among people under the age of 20, is being diagnosed more frequently in children and teens.
While diabetes itself is dangerous enough, it comes with a host of serious complications, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, amputations, dental problems and nervous system disorders. Because of these secondary problems, the risk for death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people without the disease.
If this sounds grave, it is. But here’s the thing – many cases of diabetes are preventable!
Setting The Stage
Diabetes usually begins as insulin resistance, a disorder where the cells don’t use insulin properly. As the need for insulin rises, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce it. What triggers this insulin dilemma? Scientists have linked insulin resistance with aging, a family history of diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism or a sedentary lifestyle. And it’s more common than you think. In fact, 54 million Americans have insulin resistance – and the number is growing.
But the single most important risk factor for insulin resistance – and future type 2 diabetes – is being overweight or obese. If you are overweight, your risk of becoming insulin resistant increases sevenfold – and it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll develop full-fledged diabetes. So should you start counting calories? Well, yes and no. While losing weight can help, it’s not the full story. Turns out, it isn’t just how much you eat that can upset your blood sugar levels – it’s what you eat. Highly refined carbohydrates like white flour, white sugar, white rice and white potatoes are the prime culprits. Saturated fats and trans fats – those sinister man-made fats in margarine, fast food and processed food – can also send your blood sugar through the roof. Because all of these foods promote insulin resistance, eating them on a regular basis is a sure path to this pre-diabetic condition. But filling your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains can help prevent – and might even reverse – insulin resistance.
Exercise is another powerful strategy to keep insulin resistance at bay. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five or more days a week. Walking is one of the easiest ways to get your aerobic exercise. Cycling, swimming, raking leaves or water aerobics are also great ways to get in your exercise.
Supplements play a big role in controlling blood sugar. And one of the best is chromium picolinate. A new study by researchers at Yale University shows that taking a chromium picolinate and biotin supplement improved glucose tolerance by 15 percent compared to a placebo.
The study looked at the effect of the proprietary supplement on blood sugar control and blood lipids of 36 overweight or obese people with type 2 diabetes. The subjects were divided into two groups – one who received a supplement containing 600 mcg. of chromium picolinate and 2 mg. of biotin and another group who were given a placebo. After 30 days, those taking the supplement experienced a 9.7 drop in their average blood sugar levels after eating. The placebo group, however, only saw a 5.1 reduction. Another measure of diabetic control – fructosamine levels – also improved in those taking the chromium supplement. As a bonus, the chromium group also saw a small drop in their total cholesterol levels. And chromium picolinate is extremely safe, making this supplement a win-win all the way around.
A Bitter Pill
Researchers believe that bitter melon may also lower blood sugar. They’ve found that this herb increases the activity of hexokinase and glucokinase – enzymes in your body that convert sugar into glycogen – which can be stored in your liver and used later for energy. A two-day study out of India examined bitter melon’s effect on 100 people with type 2 diabetes. On the first day, researchers tested the participants’ blood sugar levels after fasting and then after drinking sugar water. Participants then took 150 to 200 mg. of bitter melon extract on the second day before being tested. That day, researchers found that 86 percent of the participants experienced an average 14 percent drop in blood sugar both after fasting and after drinking the sugar solution.
Other herbs can also be helpful. Two placebo-controlled, double-blind cross-over studies involving 60 volunteers found that 200 mg. of Korean red ginseng improves blood sugar and insulin regulation, even after just one dose. A flurry of recent studies also suggest that a daily dose of milk thistle can significantly lower fasting blood sugar levels.
One last thing . . .
If you eat most of your meals in front of a television, consider watching something funny. A small study in Japan shows that people who laughed during mealtime showed a smaller rise in blood sugar levels compared with people who listened to a boring lecture.
In another study, five healthy and 19 diabetic adults sat down for dinner on two separate days. After the first meal, all of the participants attended a monotonous lecture. On the second day, everyone enjoyed a comedy show, which made each laugh heartily. Before each meal and two hours after, researchers measured the participants’ blood sugar. When the diners attended the comedy show, the increase in blood sugar was 36 percent lower than it was after they sat through the boring lecture.
While the authors concede that the exertion of laughing may have used up some blood sugar, they also propose that all those hearty giggles may have modulated the hormones involved in blood-sugar control. So if your blood sugar rises too sharply after eating, try watching a funny DVD and laugh your way to better health.
This just in . . .
One reader named Faila has been taking Avapro to help control her high blood pressure and wondered why so many articles say that you should avoid eating grapefruit if you have high blood pressure. After searching the medical journals, I found that it isn’t the high blood pressure that prevents you from eating grapefruit – it’s the Avapro. Avapro is an angiotensin II receptor blocker used to protect your blood vessels from the effects of a hormone that causes blood vessels to narrow. But, according to scientists at the University of Arizona, grapefruit or grapefruit juice interferes with the liver enzyme needed to metabolize these angiotensin II receptor blockers. As a result, the drug can build up in the body, giving you a higher dose than your doctor intended.
Angiotensin II receptor blockers aren’t the only type of drug affected by grapefruit. Calcium channel blockers, statins, antidepressants and even some antihistamines can interact with this citrus fruit. To make sure grapefruit doesn’t interfere with your prescription, read the medication’s warning label carefully. If an interaction with grapefruit juice is possible, stop drinking the juice until you check with your doctor.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. National Diabetes Statistics fact sheet: general information and national estimates on diabetes in the United States, 2005. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Health, 2005.
Huseini HF, Larijani B, Heshmat R, et al. “The efficacy of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. (silymarin) in the treatment of type II diabetes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial.” Phytotherapy Research. 2006;20:1036-1039.
Karch AM. “The grapefruit challenge: the juice inhibits a crucial enzyme, with possibly fatal consequences.” American Journal of Nursing. 2004;104:33-35.
Reay JL, Kennedy DO, Scholey AB. “The glycaemic effects of single doses of Panax ginseng in young healthy volunteers.” British Journal of Nutrition. 2006;96:639-642.
Singer GM, Geohas J. “The Effect of Chromium Picolinate and Biotin Supplementation on Glycemic Control in Poorly Controlled Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blinded, Randomized Trial.” Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics. 2006; 8:636-643.