Diabetes: Prevention, Normalization, and Treatment Naturally
Diabetes: Prevention, Normalization, and Treatment
Today, about 29 million Americans have Diabetes. Of those, one-third are undiagnosed! And 1.5 million more are becoming diabetic each year. A staggering 26% of our seniors over 65 have diabetes, and now 86 million youths 21 and over have pre-diabetes. Diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Having diabetes nearly doubles your chance of having a heart attack. The great news is that good diabetes control can reduce your risks for diabetic complications. Many people are looking for natural treatment options for diabetes, as they are either uncontrolled with the plan theyre on, having side effects from medications, or complications from the disease itself. They may be looking for alternatives to medications and better dietary recommendations, as well as natural treatments without side effects. A naturopathic approach to diabetes care is very holistic, supporting all of the organs involved in blood sugar control, treating and preventing complications, correcting glucose numbers by true dietary management, using specific types of exercise geared toward lowering sugar, and addressing stress management and adequate sleep.
The term diabetes simply means that the body has lost its ability to break down and properly use carbohydrates from food. It no longer listens as well to its own insulin, the pancreatic hormone that lowers blood sugar. In order to truly and effectively achieve normal blood sugar levels and avoid the dangers of pre-diabetes and diabetes, there are three organs that need to be supported: the pancreas, liver, and the adrenal glands. Symptoms of high blood sugar include unusual thirst, increased urination, hunger, weight gain or loss, fatigue, and blurred vision. In pre-diabetes, you may not have any of these signs. Women with PCOS are also at risk, as PCOS is a pre-diabetic condition. Risk factors that suggest you need to be screened for diabetes include: family history, cardiovascular (CV) disease, being overweight/obese, sedentary lifestyle, Hispanic, Native American and Asian descent, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, history of gestational diabetes, having a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, having PCOS, and using anti-psychotic medications for schizophrenia or severe bipolar disease.
There are three different types of diabetes. Type I is most common in children, teens and 20-year olds. It comes on very quickly unlike type II. In type I the immune system is attacking the cells that make insulin. This can be caused by genes, a viral infection, or a food sensitivity. Insulin will eventually be needed, but naturopathic care can delay this need for a significant period of time. Type II, much more common, is a disease of lifestyle, in which insulin may or may not be needed. A third type, Late Autoimmune Diabetes of the Adult, is often misdiagnosed as type II. These adults are typically thin, and this is also an autoimmune disease.
Diabetes Prevention and Treatment
Naturopathic medicine seeks not only to treat, but also to prevent the risks and complications of diabetes. These are most closely associated with blood sugar control, its that simple! The eyes, nerves, and kidneys are the only body parts that dont listen to insulin. They take in blood sugar all the time, which is why they become damaged first if blood sugars are high. Cardiovascular issues like coronary artery disease, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke are the number one cause of death for diabetics. Up to 25% will experience some sort of nerve damage. This could include decreased sensation in the hands and feet, pain, or damage to the eyes including glaucoma and cataracts. The main nerve of the digestive tract can become damaged, causing improperly digested food and nutrient deficiencies. And finally the kidneys can suffer damage and even fail, from high blood sugar gumming up the works, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular disease.
Traditional AACE guidelines propose that blood sugar targets should be individualized and take into account life expectancy, complications, risk factors, and psychological, social and economic status. If we know that damage to the eyes, nerves and kidneys occurs very easily, when blood sugar levels arent that high, why would we allow anyone to have high blood sugar, regardless of their demographics?! I advocate for my patients to achieve the normal levels we want everyone to have. Commonly, a diabetic will have a team approach to care, including a PCP, endocrinologist, PA, nurse practitioner, RN, dietician, and perhaps an exercise specialist or mental health professional. Thats an overwhelming amount of care and visits! A naturopath can serve as six of these professionals, minimizing confusion, cost, and visit time.
Both allopaths and naturopaths assess diabetics by screening for blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and excess weight. We both make lifestyle modifications for diet and exercise, but there can be a serious lack of education to ensure long-term success. For pre-diabetics, Metformin and other medications are usually recommended. But pre-diabetes is an area in which lifestyle changes and natural medicine can be MOST effective, without needing to resort to drugs. For type II diabetics, the recommended diet often includes foods that people are told are safe, but that are still very high in carbohydrates, and will raise blood sugar. They are taught to cover episodes of high sugars with medications, NOT to treat the cause of high sugars!
When lifestyle options fail or patients are overweight, drugs are then commonly introduced. Most diabetic medications except Metformin tend to push the pancreas to make more insulin, causing it to wear out faster, meaning injected insulin will be needed. Low-dose baby aspirin is recommended, but people with ulcers, bleeding, chronic alcohol use, heartburn, kidney or liver damage should use a safer natural alternative. Statins to lower cholesterol prevent the body from making CoQ10, a nutrient used for energy in every cell (especially the kidneys, heart and muscles), and a powerful antioxidant. If you take a statin, you need to take CoQ10! Drugs for weight loss may block your ability to absorb fat, even the good fats we know we need. They have nasty side effects like gas, diarrhea, fatty stools and incontinence. Surgery may even be recommended, like a gastric bypass, which can cause significant vitamin and mineral deficiencies and low blood sugar. These folks arent taught how eat healthfully for diabetes, either.
natural treatment plan
A natural treatment plan that treats the cause(s) of diabetes must have a strong foundation of patient education. In order to be truly successful, diabetics cant continue to eat whatever they want, eating poor, low-nutrient foods and living on artificial sweeteners. And all diabetics are NOT created the same! With excellent blood sugar control, some foods that the body originally couldnt manage can be added back into the diet. Patients will learn what carbohydrates are, that they are all not the same, and how to manage them. For weight loss, you need to have a goal weight, know your healthy range, know how much weight is safe to lose and how quickly, and realize that other chronic diseases like PCOS and adrenal issues, even stress, can interrupt your weight loss. You will learn how much protein to eat to gain or lose weight, which healthy oils to include in your diet, and how and when to measure your blood sugar to see how diet is affecting you. Regarding exercise, while all exercise is helpful, specific exercises will help you burn up to 19 times more sugar! You will learn how long and how often you need to exercise as well. If nerve damage is present, tai chi, yoga, and pilates may be more helpful.
When monitoring blood sugar, commonly there is a lack of conversation about safety measures and what to do when blood sugar gets too low. I teach my patients how to correct these blood sugars precisely, I provide their spouse/family with emergency prescriptions for very low blood sugar, I educate on diabetic IDs, even how things like travel, camping, time zones and altitude changes can affect your blood sugar levels. I encourage regular eye exams and foot checks. Sleep and stress also have to be considered. Sleep is incredibly important for blood sugar control! Sleep deprivation, from any cause, raises blood sugar, blood pressure, lipids, and inflammation in general. When we are stressed, our adrenals, the fight or flight hormones, make cortisol, which raises our blood sugar. If you are chronically stressed, this is directly working against your ability to stabilize and balance your blood sugar, avoid complications, and stay healthy.
Uniquely, naturopaths are trained in both medications, and natural modalities like herbs. We are able to substitute herbs and nutrients to help manage diabetes, blood pressure, stress reduction, sleep, and know which herbs can safely be used with certain medications. There are many over-the-counter natural options that are of poor quality, low therapeutic dose, have fillers or food sensitivities in them, and may be contraindicated with medications or other herbs youre taking. We also use acupuncture, nutrient support, homeopathy, hydrotherapy and physical medicine to address related symptoms and concerns. Diabetes CAN be managed naturally, but you need to be motivated, and more importantly properly educated, to be successful. A well-rounded treatment plan will investigate and treat ALL of the aspects discussed here, and how they relate to diabetes, and wellness. Schedule an appointment with your naturopathic doctor today to get started.
Article contributed by Dr. Michelle Retz