By Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher

One of the most important aspects of diabetes prevention and treatment is often overlooked and not brought to the public’s attention in a frequent and meaningful manner.  That aforementioned aspect is optimism.  Optimism about how much the individual person can do for himself/herself to affect the development of or course of the disease is one such example.

Another example is how optimism about drug treatments for diabetes can affect patient adherence to their prescribed regimens and even the outcomes to those prescribed regimens.

Additionally, the numerous available natural supplements that can positively impact blood sugar levels should be good cause for optimism.

An optimistic outlook also helps lower stress levels and the blood sugar spikes that accompany a high-stress mind-set.

In short, an optimistic attitude toward diabetes treatment and prevention can make a huge difference in the success or failure of the journey to a healthier outcome.

While we keep a positive outlook at the forefront of our minds, let’s examine some of the many tools we can use to hinder diabetes, its development, and its progression to disastrous effects.

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.

(1.) Reduce the consumption of simple carbohydrates/sugars.  Limit sodas, desserts, candy, white bread, white rice, or any source of simple carbs 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.

(2.) 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.

(3.) 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.

(4.) 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.

(5.) 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 with 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.

(6.) 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. Local Houston general practitioner, Dr. Ron Buescher, urges everyone at risk for diabetes due to overweight or obesity to think about the following statistic.  For every five-pound increase in body weight, diabetes risk doubles; conversely, for every five pounds lost, diabetes risk is cut by half.  Buescher urges anyone needing to lose body fat to set small, manageable goals.  Even modest weight loss of 5, 10, or 15 pounds can produce dramatic changes in body chemistry and reduce diabetes risk.  Buescher noted that even if a patient never reaches his/her “ideal” weight according to standard charts, huge improvements in health can be reaped by lesser accomplishments, and he urges patients not to “throw in the towel” and give up on healthy lifestyle choices simply because the patient is not “ideal” in the eyes of a standardized measurement.  Also, Buescher noted, that setting small, attainable goals is much more likely to bring long lasting success than trying to lose vast quantities of weight all at once, or completely overhauling one’s diet and sleep patterns in a few weeks.  “All or nothing” thinking leads a lot of people down a road to failure.  The American Diabetes Association echoes those same sentiments in their patient education materials.

Similarly, Buescher stated that a patient’s outlook on life in general can go a long way to reducing diabetes risk.  He gave examples, such as cutting the number of stressful moments (and therefore reducing blood sugar and blood pressure spikes) by changing our attitudes to common stressful situations, like being stuck in traffic or a grocery store line or dealing with an annoying relative or co-worker.  Calming down, looking at a situation from several points of view, and thinking through a constructive, healthy response put us back in control of our emotions and health.  By not seeing ourselves as helpless victims (or vengeful aggressors) of either everyday stresses or of diseases like diabetes, we are able to think and act in constructive ways that can help ourselves and others.  Buescher’s advice is again echoed – this time in Prevention magazine’s companion publication, Outsmart Diabetes, which details on p. 85 (winter issue, 2011) the results of a study indicating that patients with the most proactive attitude traits and the least number of angry or victimized attitudes had the best blood sugar control.

There are additional options for treating/avoiding onset of diabetes to be found in the naturopathic world of vitamin, mineral, herb, and food supplementation. For example, the book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, has an 11-page section on diabetes treatment/avoidance.  Among the favored supplements for the condition are the following:  alpha-lipoic acid, chromium picolinate, garlic extract, L-carnitine, vanadyl sulfate, B-complex with extra biotin and inositol, zinc, CoQ10, magnesium, manganese, dandelion root, fenugreek seeds, juniper berries, and huckleberry.  Dosages and explanations of benefit are detailed thoroughly in the book.  Naturopathic doctors, health food stores, and numerous natural healing books and magazines can give additional insight.

There are so many ways to fight against the health robbing disease, diabetes, that to list them all would overwhelm the space for this relatively short web article, but because there are so many ways to resist insulin resistance (or insulin insufficiency), all the more reason to be optimistic about battling diabetes – and winning the fight!

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