Beach Metro Community News
A growing epidemic
Within the last decade, the prevalence of diabetes has increased dramatically. Today, more than two million Canadians are afflicted with this condition. This number is expected to rise to more than three million in the next ten years. Approximately 10% of people with diabetes have type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes, where the pancreas is unable to produce insulin (a hormone which regulates glucose in the blood). The other 90% have type II (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, where either the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the insulin that is produced is not effectively used by the body.
The classic symptoms of diabetes are: frequent urination and excessive thirst and hunger. Diabetes is such a serious condition because, if left untreated or improperly controlled, it can lead to complications, such as: cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, eye disease, nerve damage, and foot ulcers.
Prevention is the key
As naturopathic physicians, one of our primary goals is to prevent illnesses before they occur. The good news is that type II (non-insulin dependent) diabetes can be prevented, using naturopathic principles. This can be achieved by following proper nutritional guidelines, incorporating exercise/activity and implementing lifestyle changes.
Prevention through nutrition
One of the major contributing factors to the development of type II diabetes is the overconsumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, as well as an inadequate dietary intake of fibre. Therefore, a diet low in refined carbohydrates and sugar and high in fibre can help prevent the onset of diabetes. Water-soluble fibre, such as that found in oat bran, nuts, seeds, apples, and most vegetables, can slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and therefore, prevent the rapid rises in blood sugar. Adequate protein intake will also help to stabilize blood sugar levels and is therefore also important for prevention. The diet should also focus on low glycemic index foods, since these foods do not rapidly increase sugar and insulin levels in our body. This is essential because chronically fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity, which can lead to the development of type II diabetes later on in life. Other specific foods can also be problematic for some people, so a food sensitivity test may be helpful to determine which foods may negatively impact blood sugar control for an individual person.
Important nutrients and herbs for blood sugar control
Minerals such as chromium and magnesium help control blood sugar by facilitating glucose metabolism in the body. Vitamin C can improve glucose tolerance and can also help prevent the complications of diabetes. Lipoic acid improves insulin sensitivity and can help to prevent nerve damage caused by diabetes. Herbs such as: gymnema sylvestre, bitter melon, cinnamon, and fenugreek are beneficial in lowering blood sugar levels. As well, increasing the good fats or essential fatty acids (such as flax seed oil and fish oil) in the diet and avoiding the bad fats (such as hydrogenated and trans-fatty acids) can improve insulin sensitivity and function. Because some of these nutrients and herbs may interact with other medications, please consult a healthcare practitioner before adding any supplements to your daily regimen.
Exercise and lifestyle factors
Many research and clinical studies have shown that exercise/physical activity can reduce the risk of type II diabetes. Exercising 30 minutes a day can help to achieve this goal. Maintaining a proper weight is also important, as being overweight (especially if the weight is concentrated around the abdominal area) is a risk factor for the development of diabetes. Additional ways to help decrease the risk are to quit smoking and to reduce or manage stress as much as possible.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
As with most conditions, prevention should be the key goal. It is much easier to prevent a condition from occurring, rather than working backwards to cure it once you are diagnosed. By learning to maintain proper blood sugar control through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes, we have the potential to slow down this rising epidemic.
Note: This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace proper diagnosis and treatment by a qualified healthcare professional.