The topic of diabetes is a large, multifaceted health issue with physical, emotional, and financial ramifications for the U.S. and the world. For the purposes of this article, we’ll take a peek at some of the many ways we as individuals can help prevent the disease from starting or can help treat diabetes if it is already present.
Shortly, we’ll look at a number of ways we can help ourselves to escape diabetes’ grip, but first, let’s examine some of the latest scientific studies that give us new clues about reducing diabetes risk and/or more successfully treating the disease if it is currently affecting ourselves or our loved ones.
Recent Scientific Studies:
- The first and perhaps most interesting study hails from the Netherlands, where researchers found that people with diabetes who were exposed to a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit for six hours per day had a 43% increase in insulin sensitivity after 10 days. Earlier studies showed similar benefits from spending just two hours per day in a 67 degree environment. Authors of the Netherlands study explained that cold increases the body’s ability to convert sugar into energy, thereby decreasing diabetes risk.
Although these few studies are providing preliminary evidence, the basic concept of “cold therapy” to treat diabetics or pre-diabetes is an exciting (and relatively easy) possible aid in the fight against diabetes. Further study should tell us more in time.
- Another exciting study published in Diabetologia documents the very helpful effects of consuming whey protein before a sugary meal. Study participants experienced, on average, a 28% reduction in blood glucose after the meal if whey protein was taken prior to the meal’s consumption. Additionally, insulin levels nearly doubled in whey drinkers within the first half-hour after eating and remained high for some time. Study researchers observed that the effect of whey on glucose control and insulin secretion was better than what would be expected from using several common diabetes drugs.
Always check with your personal physician before starting a whey protein supplement program to be sure you have no contraindications in your health history.
- An additional interesting dietary finding related to diabetes is the consumption of brown rice. Eating brown rice twice a week can lower type 2 diabetes risk by 11%. The fiber and magnesium in brown rice are thought to be aids to blood sugar stabilization. These findings were the result of a study of 197,228 people conducted by Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.
- A United Kingdom study of nearly 2,000 healthy women was documented in the Journal of Nutrition; the article detailed how substances found in chocolate, tea, and berries may provide lowered risk for diabetes. The research focused on the benefits of eating particular sub-groups of flavonoids. The research focused on flavones, which are found in herbs and vegetables such as parsley, thyme, and celery and on anthocyanins, found in berries, red grapes, wine, and other red or blue colored fruits and vegetables. Researchers found that consuming high levels of flavones and anthocyanins was associated with lower insulin resistance, better blood sugar regulation, and lowered levels of inflammation.
- Another study from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts describes the encouraging health results of research on consuming walnuts. Women study participants who ate at least eight ounces of walnuts a month were 24% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women who ate none. Researchers believe the polyunsaturated fats, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and other beneficial substances contained in the walnuts are the likely “active ingredients” that provide protection against type 2 diabetes development.
Diabetes General Information and Prevention:
Fortunately, there are numerous aids to help people avoid diabetes altogether or diminish its negative effects on the body for persons already afflicted. Let’s begin with a brief definition of what diabetes is as a disease state. Diabetes is a disease wherein the body either does not produce or cannot properly utilize insulin, the pancreatic hormone that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood and the rate at which glucose is absorbed into the cells. Because the body’s cells require glucose to function properly, and because the brain’s only energy source is glucose, keeping blood sugar levels optimal (and the body’s cells’ intake of sugar optimal) is absolutely essential to good physical and mental health.
The American Diabetes Association, traditional Western medicine, and naturopathic medicine alike agree on certain proactive steps we can all take to lower our risk of developing diabetes. The steps are also very effective in managing the disease for present diabetes patients. Firstly, anyone can be more mindful of what he/she eats. Healthful dietary choices are explained below, as are other widely accepted steps to avoiding/treating diabetes.
- Reduce the consumption of simple carbohydrates/sugars. Limit sodas, desserts, candy, white bread, white rice, or any source of simple carbohydrates to an occasional treat. The less often one stresses his/her insulin producing pancreatic cells, the longer they’ll last. Also, the less often the body’s cells are exposed to big doses of insulin or glucose, the more likely the cells are to handle both substances properly. The body’s cells can actually become “insulin resistant” over time.
- Focus on increasing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy or meat choices in the diet. They are nutritious generally and help to stabilize blood sugar. Focus on eating fish more often; it’s a good source of protein and healthy fats.
- Get more active. Anyone who can stand the idea of an organized exercise program should, by all means, pursue one. It’s the best health choice. If formal “exercise” either isn’t appealing or life circumstances prevent one from pursuing a formal plan at this point in time, then do anything possible to be more physically active. Walk, dance, wash the car by hand, rake leaves, chase your kids, or do anything that gets you up and around and moving your muscles. Physical activity improves metabolism and sugar uptake into cells, both of which improve blood sugar levels and lower body fat ratios, two important keys to preventing or treating diabetes.
- Get adequate sleep. Recent scientific studies demonstrate clearly that even young, healthy, fit adults with no pre-existing risk factors can be made to temporarily exhibit diabetic or pre-diabetic blood sugar levels by artificially depriving them of sleep (such as forced awakenings after three to four hours of sleep) for just a few days. Similarly, weight gain occurs in test subjects deprived of sleep, even if calorie intake is carefully controlled. Inadequate sleep is a major factor in blood sugar derangement, and sleep deprivation predisposes even healthy test subjects to weight gain, due to unfortunate chemical changes in the body that occur with inadequate rest. Imagine the damage done by sleep deprivation in a middle-aged or older person with one or more risk factors, such as obesity or high cholesterol.
Doctors and the American Diabetes Association recommend getting seven to eight hours of sleep daily. Sleeping less than five hours daily is associated with a substantial increase in diabetes risk, as well as an increased risk of several other serious problems.
- Be mindful of your personal risk factors. If you smoke, stop. If diabetes, or its frequent companion ailments, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and heart trouble are prevalent in your family history, then get blood work often to check on your health situation. See your doctor regularly for a check-up and ask lots of questions about what you can do to improve your odds of remaining healthy. Doctors sometimes don’t give out all the information needed unless prompted by a proactive patient. (If your doctor refuses to answer questions, is vague or evasive in answering, or acts impatient or angry about questions, then it’s time to find another doctor who is more compliant and agreeable.)
If you are a member of an ethnic minority, especially African-American or Hispanic, you should be especially vigilant about monitoring your diabetes risk factors. Sadly, diabetes is even more prevalent in these ethnic groups and less likely to be diagnosed promptly or treated effectively than in the general population. Again, catching health problems at the pre-diabetes stage and taking proactive lifestyle steps to halt and reverse the progression of the disease at this point is the best choice.
- Maintain or obtain a “can do” attitude, and take small, manageable steps to better health. Realizing that managing personal lifestyle choices (and therefore, your diabetes risk) is truly in your hands can go a long way to helping you take charge of your health. Most of the major threats to our health, such as heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s, can be delayed, alleviated, or sometimes avoided altogether by our positive, proactive health choices.
Additional Thoughts on Diabetes Prevention and Treatment:
- Stress reduction is very critical to avoiding, or successfully treating, diabetes. The human body produces a much higher rate of cortisol than normal when under chronic stress. Cortisol raises blood sugar levels; therefore, chronic unrelenting stress and its accompanying high cortisol levels will result in elevated blood sugar rates compared to those of a person in a normal, relaxed state of being.
Seek any way practical to your individual lifestyle to reduce stress; whether you choose long walks outdoors, yoga, chatting with a friend, watching a favorite T.V. show, going on vacation, or whatever you find relaxing, be sure to make time for down time. Your pancreas, heart, adrenal glands, and body in general will thank you.
- Any time you’re choosing to eat something sugary, exercise conscious portion control and pair the sugary food with something that has protein, fat, or fiber. Any of these three nutrient types will slow the body’s reaction to the presence of simple sugars and reduce glucose spikes (and dips).
- Think about adding cinnamon to your diet occasionally to lower blood sugar naturally. Cinnamon adds a pleasant little kick to many foods, and it has been scientifically shown to lower blood sugar.
- If you wish to include cinnamon in your regimen regularly, look for cinnamon capsule supplements at health food stores. Large, regular doses of “table” cinnamon used for seasoning can cause a toxic overload of certain cinnamon compounds in the body. Capsule supplements that are designed for regular consumption are generally free of (or low in) these compounds and are therefore safer than taking a lot of “table” cinnamon.
- Many people, especially diabetics, benefit from taking supplemental alpha-lipoic acid, chromium picolinate, and/or magnesium to help lower and stabilize blood sugar and to help strengthen their bodies against some of the ravages of diabetes.
- As always, before taking any dietary supplement(s), check with your doctor to avoid any “contra-indications” between your prescription drugs and dietary supplements. Also, a chat with your physician may help reveal any likely sensitivities, allergies, or other specific reasons pertaining to your individual health that would point toward taking or not taking a particular supplement.
Finally, keep an open mind about the many ways to prevent and/or treat diabetes; more possibilities in the form of research, lifestyle changes, natural supplements, and prescription drugs keep coming to the forefront of our awareness all the time. There are many ways to tackle this problem. Let’s keep our offensive line in tip-top shape!
Darra McMullen is a Women’s Health Network Writer and Researcher.